The Seattle Mariners have been one of the best franchises for Japanese born players, led by Ichiro who will no doubt be a first ballot hall of famer one day. The strong tradition of having Japanese stars on their roster was considered to be a big factor in the decision of free agent Shohei Ohtani back in the offseason before the 2018 season. This was believed to be a key reason the two way player would sign in Seattle, however he did not. What if he had though? What would be different?
The Mariners made many trades for more international signing bonus money to give him more than any other team, but he chose to ultimately join Mike Trout and the Angels in Anaheim. He chose less money to join the best player on the planet in Trout. However, the Angels had not shown the ability to build around Trout, and since signing Ohtani, they have not built a winner around the two most talented baseball players on the planet.
The Mariners were fully expecting to bring in the Japanese sensation, but since that didn’t happen, we can dream on the what ifs. Would the Mariners have rebuilt after the 2018 season and traded away their veterans for prospects? Would Ohtani have pushed the Mariners over the top? These are all very good questions, and fun ones for M’s fans to ask looking back.
What impact would Shohei Ohtani have had right away?
Looking at the Mariners team in 2018, Ohtani as a DH slashed .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs and a 149 wRC+. He was truly an impact bat and that was an incredible debut year offensively. If he were on the Mariners in ’18, he would have had to play in the outfield, but it would have been manageable. Instead of platooning Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia in the outfield, they could have used Ohtani and had an even better offense.
On the mound, Ohtani did not have a huge impact in 2018. He would have been able to pitch some and give an aging and decaying King Felix some days off and fill in. Ohtani started 10 games and had 51.2 innings. He would have been a great part-time starter to have, especially in a lackluster rotation.
Ohtani would have possibly given the Mariners a few more wins, and even though the Mariners missed the playoffs by a wide margin that year, they might not have blown a huge lead in the AL Wild Card race. He might have made the 89 win Mariners a 90-94 win team and possibly pushed them into the playoffs.
If the Mariners would have made the playoffs in 2018, would GM Jerry Dipoto have blown up the team’s veteran core? He might not have if the team made the playoffs, but the Mariners would have needed to add a few more good players to that team. It is very possible that Ohtani’s presence led to a playoff run and led to the club signing another pitcher like Dallas Keuchel who was on the market. The M’s may never have rebuilt and continued to go all-in on the present.
What if Shohei Ohtani was here today after the rebuild though?
Suppose that the Mariners didn’t make the playoffs in 2018 and still went on their fire sale and rebuilt and traded away veterans but kept Ohtani. He would miss 2019 on the mound with Tommy John surgery but was still a DH. He would have another good season, but not as good as his rookie season. He then struggled in 2020, hitting below .200 offensively and only pitched 1.2 innings. Then he came back super strong and had the MVP season we all saw in 2021.
If Shohei Ohtani was on the 2021 Mariners, there is not a doubt in my mind that the M’s would have made the playoffs. They won 90 games without him and if instead of bullpen days and inconsistent offense, the Mariners had a 5 WAR hitter and a 3 WAR pitcher, they would have won significantly more games. The Mariners would have been a nearly unstoppable team and with the young talent coming for the M’s, it would be incredible.
With Ohtani in the fold, the M’s would be within easy striking distance of the Astros for the AL West division title. With Robbie Ray and possibly one of Trevor Story or Kris Bryant, AND Shohei Ohtani, that would be a great team. It is very sad that he chose the Angels because he would certainly be a near-lock for a playoff spot in 2022 in Seattle.
If the Mariners would have signed Shohei Ohtani, he would instantly be a fan favorite in Seattle, especially with the long history of Japanese talent playing here. It is very disappointing and rather maddening at times thinking about what could be. However, if the Angels continue to squander his and Mike Trout’s talents and miss out on the playoffs to the Mariners, could the Mariners sign him in free agency after the 2023 season? He could fulfill the what-ifs for Mariners fans.