During the Mariners season wrap-up press conference Tuesday at Safeco Field, general manager Jerry Dipoto was asked if Shohei Otani intrigues him as much as “the Japanese Babe Ruth” intrigues everybody else.
“Yes,” answered Dipoto.
Could he elaborate?
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Is Otani’s team still playing?
Would he acknowledge the process to acquire Otani was an unusual situation?
Had the typically voluble Dipoto ever given so many one-word answers?
“Probably not,” he said with a laugh, breaking the string of one-word answers with a two-word answer.
Dipoto and manager Scott Servais spoke for about 40 minutes Tuesday, addressing what needs to be fixed so that the Mariners can remain on the field after the regular season, instead of talking about the next one.
“The Houston Astros are awesome,” said Dipoto, referring to a team that has the look of an AL West dynasty. “They won 101 games and they boat-raced the division early. We have a long way to go from where we are today and where the Houston Astros are.
“I do believe we’re making progress. I don’t believe we’re nipping on the heels of the Houston Astros. That’s going to take some time and, frankly, a little bit of luck.”
Which brings us back to Otani, a potential free agent Dipoto wasn’t at liberty to discuss because the dual-threat player remains employed by the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Otani wouldn’t be able to personally solve the 23-game gap between the first-place Astros and third-place Mariners. But obtaining a pitcher who throws 100 mph fastballs, and a hitter who belts 400-foot homers, isn’t a bad way to begin the challenge of stalking the Astros, especially when the pitcher and the hitter are the same person.
Such a phenomenon comes along, oh, once every century or so. Precisely how to utilize him remains a mystery, but Dipoto enjoys mysteries as they relate to baseball.
“Sure, it’s possible,” Dipoto said of putting a power hitter to work as a pitcher, and vice versa. “It’s happened before – not in my lifetime, but it’s happened.
“Pitching a fixed number of innings over the course of a season while simultaneously taking at-bats? Neither one is going to be a full-time job – that’s impossible to achieve. But you can do (double-duty) in bulk. It takes a great athlete, and it takes a leap of faith in believing you’re not going to wear the player down.”
Aside from bonus-pool money the Mariners would be required to pay the Fighters – likely to be in the neighborhood of $20 million – Otani’s rookie contract projects as reasonable. Absent a biding war, money is not the issue.
The issue is several other teams also are keen on acquiring a player whose novelty act could produce dividends between the foul lines and at the box-office.
Why not at Safeco Field? Seattle’s ties with Japanese baseball are extensive, from serving as the landing pad for future Hall of Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to the ownership group that bought the franchise in 1992.
The plot is further thickened if Dipoto joins the long line of clubs interested in Dodgers free agent starter Yu Darvish, Otani’s close friend and former teammate.
Darvish rates as a long shot but, hey, when dreams of the playoffs have been squashed, what’s the harm in mulling other kinds of dreams?
Even without Darvish, the Mariners seem an ideal fit for Otani, a low-key sort who won’t be swayed by the brighter lights of a bigger market.
“We’re never lacking for resources, we’re never lacking for interest level in our ownership group in general,” said Dipoto. “This is a great organization to work for, truly. We work in a great facility in a great city.
“It’s an easy sell. It’s an easy sell to players. It’s an easy sell to a coach or a staff member. Our ownership has been terrific since the day I got here, and I can’t imagine it was grossly different before.”
If Dipoto is serious about pursuing Otani, will the ownership group support him?
Will the Mariners’ interest in Otani be reciprocated?
Only time will tell.
The more words packed in an answer to any question involving Shohei Otani, the more muddled things get.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath