BY Art Thiel 02:15PM 12/08/2017

Thiel: Angels beat Mariners in bidding for Ohtani

Despite the best efforts by GM Jerry Dipoto, who is now out four good minor league prospects, Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani chose the Angels over the Mariners.

GM Jerry Dipoto struck out Friday in the sweepstakes to hire Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. / Alan Chitlik, Sportespress Northwest

The well of good news in Seattle sports wasn’t going to linger forever, or even for long. But given the effort and resources the  Mariners put into landing free agent Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, the well suddenly seems Southern California dry, no rain in sight.

The Mariners may have finished second, but in this case, it means being tied for last with 29 other teams. Worse, the winner of the Ohtani sweepstakes Friday was the Angels, a division rival and general manager Jerry Dipoto’s old club that he left on less than good terms.

The line forms to the left for all who wish to buy Dipoto a cocktail.

The statement Friday from Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo:

“This morning, after a thorough, detailed process, Shohei Ohtani has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei is humbled and flattered by all the time and effort that so many teams put into their presentations and sincerely thanks them for their professionalism. In the end, he felt a strong connection with the Angels and believes they can best help him reach his goals in Major League Baseball.

“I want to thank the clubs and everyone else for respecting our intent to make this very important process as private as possible. We were resolved to having a fair, methodical process. Teams clearly put in a lot of work, and we are grateful for that.”

The pursuit of Ohtani, who will cost the Angels a $20 million posting fee to his Pacific League club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, was urgent for the Mariners.

They depleted a meager farm system of four good prospects to help gather the most international slot money of any rival, nearly the maximum allowable $3.55 million signing bonus under baseball rules. They publicly made an elaborate bid for a 23-year-old player projected to be a pitching ace as well as a good hitter, whose contract could be under club control for six years.

In the November debut of a Mariners podcast, The Wheelhouse, Dipoto was candid about his desire for Ohtani’s services:

“We want to sell the Seattle experience. What it means to the Japanese-American, our culture and how this organization has trended — and trended so positively — when we have a star Japanese player. And make no mistake — this is a star Japanese player. He’s talented. He’s gifted. He’s going to make some team a lot better.

“We have made no bones about it in talking to other clubs. We’ve gathered as much as we can . . . We are not going to leave a stone unturned in the efforts to do it again if the opportunity exists. We’ll be responsible in how we do it, but we understand that this is a one-time buying opportunity, and you have to be prepared.

To me, the worst thing we can be is sitting on the sideline, being too conservative — sitting on our hands when an opportunity to change the history of your organization comes along, because that’s what this might be.”

They pushed in all available chips, and busted.

The Mariners were reported to be among the final seven teams that also included the Padres, Giants, Rangers, Cubs and Dodgers. While the Mariners finish last in that group in the category of historical baseball excellence, it was believed by some that the club’s history with Japanese players, led by Ichiro, would have meant something. Even though the club is no longer owned by Japanese video-game giant Nintendo, the club had at least one Japanese player on the major league roster since 1998.

But that may have worked against them. Media speculation included the notion that Ohtani didn’t want to be compared to his countrymen who previously played in his new American home.

For sure, it helped that the Angels, 80-82 in an injury-pickled 2017 season, have in Mike Trout a superstar in his prime. The Mariners roster is heavy on expensive, aging veterans, particularly at DH, where Nelson Cruz had substantial numbers in his age-36 season.

The Mariners, who valued Ohtani’s pitching skills over his plate skills — Ohtani was 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in five seasons as a pitcher, and has a hitter was a .286/.358/.500 with 48 homers and 166 RBIs over 403 games —  were offering part-time DH work in Cruz’s final contract year.

The Angels would seem to have a similar roadblock in Albert Pujols, 38 next month, but he was reported to be on a weight-loss program that would allow him to play more than the six games he played at first base the past season.

Whatever were the decisive factors, Dipoto came up short. The blow is undeniably large, made worse by the loss to a division rival.

He is right that sitting out the sweepstakes was not an option for a team 16 years gone from the postseason. But the new rules governing international signings, which made slot money suddenly expensive to acquire, cost the Mariners where they had little to lose — the farm system.

In a way, the outcome was like the trade last winter of RHP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte for SS Jean Segura and OF Mitch Haniger. While few Mariners fans would un-do that deal, the fact was that it made weaker the club’s weakest roster link — the starting rotation.

The four prospects traded included two of the organization’s top pitching prospects, Thyago Vieria, 24 (White Sox) and Nick Neidert , 21 (Marlins). It’s true that Neidert was part of a package that helped acquire All-Star 2B Dee Gordon. But Gordon is being asked by the Mariners to play center field for the first time in his career, another move with some added risks.

From a Seattle-sports-news perspective this week, the Ohtani outcome generates a feeling similar to being a longtime Sonics fan. It’s hard coming in second.



  • Alan Harrison

    Is there any way that the Gordon signing might make it easier to slide Cano to first base, Gordon to 2nd, and deal Healy and/or Vogelbach for a #3-4 starter?

    • Kevin Lynch

      Good idea. Except that Cano is a Gold Glover.

      • art thiel

        Only in 2010 and 2012. He’s no longer close to that.

      • wabubba67

        A Gold Glover….with no range.

    • art thiel

      You’re thinking like a GM. Injuries have reduced Cano’s range. Gordon would be a smart alternative, perhaps sooner than later. But the club won’t want to say that publicly.

  • Sam Base

    I think the whole process was a sham from the start. It had publicity stunt written all over it. He had all 30 MLB teams fill out a questionaire. Are you kidding me? A questionaire? Can you imagine an American player getting away with that nonsense? Ohtani knew where he wanted to go and it wasn’t New York and it wasn’t Seattle. It was Disneyland. That’s cool.

    As for Ohtani’s future I think the Angels are going to humor him the first season with his wildly unrealistic dream of being the next Babe Ruth. Then after that Mike Scioscia is going to put his foot on Ohtani’s neck and tell hiim: “Not anymore, pal. You’re a pitcher. Stick with pitching”.

    • Ed Norton

      Maybe his next demand will be that the the name on the back of his Angels jersey will just be “Shohei”.

      • art thiel

        I was hoping he’d choose Clemens.

        • Effzee

          Or Ichiro.

    • art thiel

      You’re smarter than me and many others, then. MLB teams had little idea what would work. Isn’t there a Disneyland in Japan?

      But I agree that his pitching is more valuable than his hitting.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Yes. Unless he has a .360 OBP. In which case, he’s playin’. And if he has a 3.60 ERA he’s pitchin’.

  • Zeno

    Karma for opposing the SoDo Sonics arena.

    • art thiel

      Check back with me after the 2018 Mariners-Angels season series.

  • Effzee

    The Indy 500 was won by a Japanese guy for the first time this year. A Japanese guy won Project Runway, too. I say its inevitable this guy is at least six to twelve times as good as Babe Ruth.

    • art thiel

      I thought you were going to suggest Godzilla.

      • Effzee

        Nah, that’s too obvious for me. I hover around the obvious, but I put my own twist on it. Or so I like to think.

        • Effzee

          Or, since he can pitch and catch and hit all at the same time, we could call him Shohei “Crazylimbs” Ohtani.

          • Effzee

            Dammit. If he had signed with Seattle we could’ve call him “Ultramega OK” in honor of Soundgarden.

          • art thiel

            The ground is coming up fast. Pull up.

  • Husky73

    Is it Otani or Ohtani?

    • art thiel

      The story was correct. The headline is fixed.

  • Kirkland

    Anaheim makes sense. It’s in a major media market, but not in the center of it, so the media spotlight won’t be quite as hot. Also, the designated hitter should give him more at bats than in the National League, where’d he have to platoon a field position to get at bats on days he’s not pitching.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think NL teams had a shot. But the LA Times today confirmed that Ohtani didn’t want to follow his countrymen’s legacy in SEA and TEX. Too bad he didn’t say so earlier.

  • ss

    Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in there.

  • Husky73

    The Mariners had a farm system ranked in the low 20’s by most. Dipoto went all in for Ohtani and came up snake eyes, giving up promising young players. As we saw last year, there was little talent in Tacoma, especially starting pitching. I expect Dipoto to keep dealing, hoping for an overlooked gem. But, 2018 looks like the usual 75-85 win season. The Angels have been known as an unlucky franchise. In reality, the M’s have owned that dubious distinction since 1977 (actually, 1969).

    • art thiel

      Given that the M’s are short in the same place as the rest of MLB — starting pitching — I don’t see much help coming in free agency, which is why Dipoto went so strong for Ohtani. So I’d agree, 80 wins, give or take, although Dee Gordon is an uptick at the top of the lineup.

  • jafabian

    Not a fan of pitchers hitting, much less on their days off. I’m not sure how long he’ll last in MLB if that’s his plan so this could be a blessing in disguise. Use the money saved to go after Jake Arietta.