In the first episode of a new Mariners podcast, The Wheelhouse, general manager Jerry Dipoto joined host Aaron Goldsmith to discuss a plethora of topics regarding his team. The 41-minute, must-listen interview is packed with candid assessments of the Mariners’ roster, trade anecdotes and, perhaps most appealing to the general MLBTR audience, more than 15 minutes of talk on Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani.
Dipoto doesn’t shy away from expressing his excitement to finally be able to talk about Ohtani now that the 23-year-old is going to be posted for big league clubs, and he’s frank in explaining his desire to make a serious run at signing the right-hander/slugger.
“We want to sell the Seattle experience,” says Dipoto. “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.”
The GM goes on to acknowledge, of course, that Ohtani’s specific preferences when selecting a team remain unclear. It’s possible that Ohtani, for instance, would rather head to an organization that doesn’t have a storied history of Japanese stars so that he can form his own legacy, Dipoto suggests. For the time being, there’s not yet a great way to gauge his top priorities. There are countless variables that’ll determine where Ohtani lands, and while money doesn’t appear to be the primary factor, the Mariners will be on the lookout for means by which to acquire additional international funds to pad their offer to Ohtani.
To that end, Dipoto concedes that his trade of hard-throwing righty Thyago Vieira to the White Sox in exchange for international funds was “pretty much” done as a means of increasing his maximum offer to Ohtani. The Mariners also had a glut of pitchers on the roster, he notes (26 of the 39 players on the 40-man) and were in need of some maintenance before this week’s deadline to set the roster for the Rule 5 Draft, though that didn’t seem to be the primary motivation.
“We have made no bones about it in talking to other clubs,” Dipoto says of adding extra international money. “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.”
The Mariners, Dipoto confirms, have just shy of $1.6MM to offer Ohtani at this point and have the capacity to acquire another roughly $2.3MM within the confines of MLB’s international bonus pool system. However, clubs are becoming less willing to part with international funding — hardly a surprise given not only Ohtani’s posting but also the new slate of prospects that are available to MLB clubs in the fallout from the Braves’ investigation (headlined, of course, by Kevin Maitan).
The Mariners have spent at least the past year working on their sales pitch to Ohtani, going so far as to prepare a “film on the merits of Seattle and the Mariners” as they seek different ways to pique his interest.
“This is maybe the most unique circumstance in baseball that I can recall,” Dipoto adds. “It is all about how you as a city, as an organization and as human beings appeal to an individual, rather than the final paycheck. In my lifetime, that’s really never been a thing.”
The Mariners, like most other clubs (presumably), view Ohtani as an immediately MLB-ready “plug-and-play difference maker” that doesn’t need a stop in the minors before pitching in a big league rotation. Dipoto notes that his team’s interest in signing Ohtani is so great that they’d be willing to play Nelson Cruz in the outfield a few times per week in order to free some DH at-bats for Ohtani on days he does not pitch.
With or without Ohtani, the Mariners’ lineup will have a different composition next season. The first major move of Seattle’s offseason was to flip Emilio Pagan and 17-year-old shortstop Alexander Campos to the Athletics in a trade for Ryon Healy, who will be the team’s new first baseman. Dipoto praises Healy’s lengthy track record of hitting, dating back to A-ball and even into his amateur days, noting that the Mariners have had interest in him since 2016. While Healy’s lack of walks doesn’t necessarily fit this front office’s typical blueprint for an offensive player, the GM expresses confidence that his new acquisition will be a positive contributor.
“Our ability to get on base may be a little more linked to the bat than we prefer, but he brings something that’s hard to find for us, and that’s cheap affordable power at a position that’s been difficult to fill,” says Dipoto. “…And that gives us one solution at an affordable rate with a player we hold for five more years — that allows us the ability to go focus our resources to fill needs in other areas.”
While Healy will be penciled in as the primary first baseman, his ability to play third base if needed held some appeal to the Mariners as well. Generally speaking, Dipoto voices a preference to avoid a necessity to rely heavily on strict platoons. The team still relishes the idea of acquiring versatile players that can handle multiple positions as a means of retaining roster flexibility, but taking up two roster spots to field one position is somewhat of an inefficiency that the M’s would prefer to move away from.
Seattle will also feature some changes in the bullpen, having traded Pagan and brought in right-hander Nick Rumbelow from the Yankees. Dipoto raves about Rumbelow’s performance in his return from Tommy John surgery this past season and praises him as a potential future setup man in the Seattle ’pen.
Rumbelow isn’t the first near-MLB ready player the Mariners have plucked from the Yankees, and Seattle will undoubtedly hope that he pans out similarly well. Both outfielder Ben Gamel and left-hander James Pazos have established themselves in Seattle, so much so that Dipoto notes that he gets asked about Pazos more than any other player in trade talks.
“You don’t find a lot of 26-year-old lefties who throw in the mid-90s, who are making close to league minimum, who have gone out and shown that they can be effective in the big leagues.”
Again, the entire interview is an excellent listen, with Dipoto sharing scouting stories on Ohtani, trade anecdotes, insight into the Mariners’ roster composition and some general insight into the various motivations behind his most recent set of trades. Fans of the Mariners and other clubs alike should find plenty of interest in the lengthy chat between Dipoto and Goldsmith.