Plenty of outfielders still up for grabs

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Jim Edmonds, Jay Payton, Shannon Stewart, Luis Gonzalez, Geoff Jenkins. All had their careers cut short a year ago because teams decided to go young and cheap in the outfield. Edmonds and Jenkins are currently contemplating comebacks, but there’s still a crunch at the position, with few spots available and more than enough players to fill them.
A rundown of the current free agent outfielders:
Johnny Damon
Jermaine Dye
Rick Ankiel
Xavier Nady
Randy Winn
Jonny Gomes
Gary Sheffield
Marcus Thames
Rocco Baldelli
Garret Anderson
Gabe Gross
Brian Giles
Chris Duncan
Endy Chavez
Alfredo Amezaga
Jacque Jones
Matt Stairs
Cory Sullivan
Ryan Freel
Darin Erstad
Jeremy Reed
Wily Mo Pena
There’s something for everyone in that list. Damon is the only player left guaranteed to help a contender as an everyday player, but Dye can still hit and Ankiel offers plenty of upside. Winn would be a terrific fourth outfielder for a good team if he gives up on the idea of starting for a mediocre one. And all Gomes did last year was hit .267/.338/541 in 281 at-bats for the Reds.
As for matching them up all with teams, that’s where it gets difficult. The Blue Jays and Reds are the only remaining clubs that look like locks to bring in starting outfielders, and they’re both bargain hunting. The Giants, Marlins, Royals, Tigers and Yankees are the teams that could add a regular. The Royals and Tigers, though, might go the DH route instead, with Jim Thome, Hank Blalock and Russell Branyan still lurking.
So, it seems to me too many of these guys are going to have to end up settling for minor league deals. Here’s one person’s guess as to where the notable names will end up:
Johnny Damon – Yankees
Jermaine Dye – Reds
Rick Ankiel – Blue Jays
Xavier Nady – Mets
Randy Winn – Cardinals
Jonny Gomes – Cubs
Gary Sheffield – Royals
Marcus Thames – Blue Jays
Rocco Baldelli – Twins
Endy Chavez – Mariners

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.