The baseball season needs to be like the soccer/football/futbol/calcio season

Baseball, in an attempt to remain relevant in everyone’s eyes (despite the fact that the postseason is currently going), recently revealed the prospect of two expansion squads entering the field, and the subsequent changes that would accompany it.

Most importantly, if baseball expands, that would mean that the Seattle Mariners would be joined by two new teams to one of the most futile stains in all of baseball–the few, the sad, the ones who haven’t made the World Series.

One of the key aspects of the expansion plans involve restructuring the divisional makeups, leaving us with 16 teams in each league, and four teams in each division. That would immediately have implications on the playoffs, and all around, the whole thing could become a giant mess.

As it stands now, the Wild Card is a necessary evil to making the playoffs work, otherwise you are constantly rewarding a team like the 2005 San Diego Padres with a chance for offseason greatness, over the likes of many more, better teams (three in fact!). SPOILER: If your system rewards the Padres, the system is broken.

What if we could get rid of the necessary evil/Padres? What if we could get rid of all evil in the world? That is right. I’m talking about a soccer system, the sport of unparalleled virtue and moral cleanliness. I’m talking about making every single game count, not just the ones your No. 1 and No. 2 starters make. I’m talking about constructing a team that is built to win throughout the entire season, not just in October.

In the past 20 years, the overall regular season champion has only won the World Series four times. It is even more rare for the World Series to include the overall top two teams in baseball.

This is an opportunity like no other. Abolish the playoff scenario that so many of us are addicted to, because the end of the season dramatically would become that playoff race. In seven of the past 10 years, including this season, the top two records in MLB have been decided by two games or less.

The entire experiment would be an exercise in equity and fairness. Rather than have the NL West be murderers row while the Washington Nationals (thanks for not making the World Series) and the Chicago Cubs are busy padding their stats against the cellars of their divisions, this inventive system would level the playing field.

This could happen in a multiple of ways:

  • Each team plays each team five times: two home, two away, and ONE NEUTRAL LOCATION (why I have no idea) (So Spokane can get some games Go Zags)
  • Each team plays each team six times: three home, three away.

The overall season length remains relatively the same, if not a bit shorter (whoops the owners probably don’t care for that). If anything, the playoffs no longer somehow drag into November, because people only care about October baseball, not November baseball. The rest of the atmosphere would remain the same. If you are a garbage team, you can still play spoilers for those that are in the race for the top. The glory is there for the team that is truly the best team in baseball, not the team that just happens to have Madison Bumgarner on it. Baseball isn’t broken yet, but its not like it is completely fixed either.

Perhaps you are sitting there, and thinking (because you are a well-informed, global, multi-sports viewer), hold on a second! How can we even discuss the idea of a soccer/football/futbol/calcio table without even broaching the subject of relegation. Well that, my friend, is an issue that is too complex to approach in this blog post. The discussion of how to improve baseball is far from over. We are just getting started.

 

Episode 13: The Fans and the Furious

We Love Trash

0:00-42:45 WE ARE BACK YES THANK YOU. After three months hiatus Scott, Nathan, and David return to recap the 2017 Mariners; a frustrating, inconsistent, mediocre team hey wait they told me this season was going off-type. Hey! Hey we got the wrong script here! Damn writers.

43:15-1:28:25

After a whelming-ass look back the boys get DARK. It’s a look forward, bemoaning the franchise’s inability or refusal to commit to the steps necessary to build a consistently great team, and a bleak forecast for 2018, Shohei Ohtani, or no. DO NOT LISTEN SOBER. Or do. We certainly didn’t record it sober but you do you, pal.

(Music credits: The Movielife, Mark Morrison, Beirut)

(Rate and subscribe on SoundCloud and iTunes. We appreciate you listening.)

Extend Jerry Dipoto

Wait, aren’t you the pessimist blog?

With the end of another playoff-less season, the accompanying tours of shame by the various members of the Mariners front office and ownership are well underway. Last week it was Jerry Dipoto, putting his hand on the Bible and swearing before God and Country to uphold an offseason of clean living, and minimal transactions. This week, it’s new CEO John Stanton’s turn, offering an emphatic support of Dipoto’s front office in an article by Greg Johns, of MLB dot com:

“I’m completely supportive of Jerry and thrilled with the job he’s done and the way he’s addressed the adversity and overcome it, in many respects,” Stanton said. “I’m all in on Jerry and enthusiastic about what he’s done.”

In the theater of public relations, this is very much following the steps on the dance card. The team isn’t going to change over the front office after two seasons, one a qualified success, and the other easily hand waved as a mere “setback”. However, thanks to a recent article from national writer, Arby’s enthusiast, and general menche Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, we have some TREMENDOUS NUGGETUDE that Jerry Dipoto’s contract is set to expire after the upcoming season.

Now, let’s back up here, and all agree to some basic things:

1) It is now clear, if he accepted a 3-year contract, that Jerry Dipoto’s primary, secondary, and perhaps even tertiary mandates were to end the organization’s playoff drought as quickly as possible, no matter what the cost.

2) Despite disagreeing with plenty of moves, my and many of my colleagues’ issues with Dipoto’s time as General Manager have had more to do with the decision to try and maximize the current window, rather than the granular details of how he has gone about that. Broadly speaking, we’re aiming at different targets, not arguing flight paths.

3) All but the most blindly optimistic Mariner fan would likely acquiesce that any scenario that involves the 2018 Mariners competing for more than a Wild Card spot, and an ~85 win season, involves a series of extreme outliers.

Now, if we can agree on these three points the problem begins to come into focus. The Mariners are taking their head personnel executive, the man who will be in charge of another draft, and another trade deadline, into a contract year, seemingly with a win-or-else mandate, for a season that appears to have a low probability of success. This represents a failure to acknowledge the current power structure of the American League; where Houston, New York, Boston, and even Cleveland appear to return very strong rosters for 2018. Additionally, any executive with a soon to expire contract, looking to save his job by turning a 95th percentile outcome into a 90th percentile outcome by further savaging tomorrow for today, is gonna take one look at the handle in his office labeled “YOLO” and yank on it without a second thought.

So, this is all preamble to my main, badly buried lede: For the sake of 2018 AND 2019 and beyond, the Mariners should sign Jerry Dipoto to a 2-3 year extension before he makes even one more transaction. The cult of personality surrounding Dipoto as a baseball messiah never made sense, and is finally beginning to deflate, but by a fair and objective analysis he appears to be, at minimum, the organization’s best general manger since Pat Gillick. I know, I know, the lowest of bars, cleared.

Still, having been fortunate enough to talk to Dipoto on a few occasions, and through observing him work closely over the past two seasons, I believe him to be a smart, forward-thinking man with good communication skills, and the ability to manage the people below him to the degree that his overall vision for the franchise doesn’t fall into chaotic disrepair. At minimum, he deserves a chance to draft and develop for more than two seasons to see if Kyle Lewis, Sam Carlson, Evan White, etc. blossom into the kind of franchise-altering talents this team so desperately needs.

By extending Dipoto now, the Mariners allow his plan the stability necessary to look beyond 2018, key for not only Dipoto himself but for all the minor league coaches, scouts, and talent developers tasked with implementing a coherent, consistent program that regularly turns out major league talent in Seattle. The lack of coherence can have a cascading effect, with the stress of unknown job security leading to potential suffering of performance, damaging press leaks, and talent loss as employees jump ship for a seemingly more stable situation.

Crucially, extending Dipoto does not in fact commit the team to another 3-4 years of Jerry Dipoto. General Manager salaries are difficult to find, but with Theo Epstein making reportedly around $10 million dollars, it’s hard to believe Dipoto earns even half that. The risk of eating $10-15 million, should Dipoto’s regime tank and a change clearly becomes necessary is something, but its far from prohibitive in the world of professional baseball.

Jerry Dipoto was brought in to win now, and in 2016 he got very close. Despite the belief here that the best course of action is to build for the future, it is clear that ownership wants to break this damn losing streak in 2018, come hell or high water. That mandate is not inherently reflective of Dipoto’s ability as general manager. He has thus far gone to great pains in fact to NOT further saddle the organization with long-term commitments to older players and should be commended. Allowing him to work in a contract year where decisions made could be felt for years to come (hello, Erik Bedard trade) brings too great a temptation to sacrifice the future for a small chance at glory.

Whatever 2018 brings, Jerry Dipoto deserves the opportunity to transition the franchise to its next phase. For him, and for the franchise, an extension as soon as possible is the best thing to do. So, let’s do it.

 

A too-early offseason post

If you’re going through Hell, well, sometimes there’s just more Hell.

The 2017 MLB Playoffs are roaring, and while one team from the AL West has already advanced to the Championship Series, the Seattle Mariners have not. In fact, the Seattle Mariners are all mostly on vacation, I’d assume. Some might be taking on new hobbies, others likely have been told they are not Seattle Mariners anymore. Some will comment, years down the line, on how, “It didn’t actually rain that much.” Others still might forget they ever played in Seattle in 2017 (‘sup Jean Machi). With all that being said, and the season-past still not-yet-passed, let’s take a brief look at what the viewing audience might expect from the Seattle Mariners this offseason, juxtaposed with the subjective opinions of this author. Admittedly, I am not a professional baseball executive. I do, however, have a Masters Degree from the University of California, Davis, and that’s basically the same thing.

Let’s sum up 2017 in a few quick sentences here since we all saw it, unfortunately. The Seattle Mariners, in their second full-season under GM Jerry Dipoto entered the year with an offense projected to be towards the upper tier of the AL and a starting rotation that looked like its ceiling was somewhere near the middle-of-the-pack if you squinted. The bullpen, a mix of retreads, up and comers, and some known quantities was, well, exactly what every bullpen sounds like before the bullets start flying. Dipoto solved offseason questions at shortstop and in the outfield by acquiring Jean Segura, a cost-controlled Mitch Haniger, and trading for Jarrod Dyson. Mike Zunino bounced-back from an atrocious end to 2016, and despite an early demotion, finished the year as a top-10 catcher in all of Baseball. Injuries hampered the season, but were likely less due to luck, and much more to team design, as the team was built to rely on countless players on bounce-back years or on the wrong-side of thirty. In short, the Mariners finished 78-84, good enough for 4th in the AL West, in a season that they somehow managed to be “buyers” at the deadline.

The offense was as-advertised, if not a little under-performing. In the end, they were tied for 5th in MLB in team wRC+ (with the Twins and Athletics), and 12th in total offensive team fWAR. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both experienced relatively disappointing seasons in respect to their 2016’s, Nelson Cruz fell-off somewhat but only just-so, and first base remained a disaster. The loss of Jarrod Dyson in centerfield, and Leonys Martin before him, forced several outfield reshuffles that exposed just how much “depth” had been built up at that position (read: not much). Mitch Haniger appears to be the real deal, as his WAR/600 extrapolates to almost a 4-Win player as a corner outfielder. Jerry in his postseason press conferences has expressed a willingness to open 2018 with Haniger as his Opening Day centerfielder. I am not as optimistic about the defense holding up there. Gamel and Heredia both appear to be what Mariners teams of yonder years have had plenty of, 4th outfielders.

The time has come for us to face the music: Felix Hernandez isn’t going back to 2014. As such, the rotation as it looks will be built around James Paxton, a fitting ace, with a penchant for injury, and thus exists just bellow bonafide Ace-dom. Acquisitions of Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez have tied in the back end of the rotation, but there’s zero organizational depth that should be relied upon for a successful (read: playoff(?)) 2018. The Mariners are left in a tough spot with their pitching. Felix is still on the books for $25M while providing, at his best, the quality of a 2-3 starter. Paxton is cheap, but can’t be relied on for 150 innings. So, left with the choice of Andrew Moore and a host of unknowns, they’ll likely have to spend. In comes the question mark named Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani will post sometime within the next few months and will be had by some team at a massive bargain if the hype is real. A player who appears to have more arm-talent than bat, he allegedly may have the chops to be a two-way player in the MLB. However, if he’s truly arm-first, my personal belief is that he and his organization would be better-off having him focus on pitching, and leaving the DH’ing to field players. Ohtani represents a real chance for the organization to extend the current window. They simply have to land him before dozens of other teams and hope he’s truly a 5-7 Win pitcher.

It all depends on how you view this organization, but per their words, they aren’t letting 2017 put them in sell-mode. The fact is this: anything tradable within the organization was either traded already or lost value over the past season. Edwin Diaz, Nelson Cruz, hell, even Kyle Seager, are all worth less now than they were this time last year. Moving large contracts like Cano or Felix would likely mean eating a ton of money, which the ownership hasn’t expressed a willingness to do. So here the Seattle Mariners are, stuck in the middle with an ever-aging roster and as close to zero in-house talent to improve them as imaginable. In all reality, 2018 might be the last chance this team has in creating a Wild Card roster in years. So, let’s go forward assuming this is the strategy of the front office. One last hurrah with this window.

The organization has to buy pitching, probably needs to find a rent-a-firstbaseman since they appear unable to make Daniel Vogelbach stick there, and has expressed desire in acquiring an outfielder (again). All this is to be done with what appears to be tight budget restrictions and in Jerry Dipoto’s apparent final-contract year. Shohei Ohtani represents a chance for this organization to really change its outlook for the next two or three years, yet its a long shot and a gamble all wrapped in a massive “what-if”. If anything, maybe that sentence is the most honest outlook for 2018 I could write.

Forced into an offseason coming off a disappointing year, with bloated contracts to aging stars, and a farm that appears to have no help arriving soon enough, the Seattle Mariners will likely be able to squabble together a squad that could be in the running for a Wild Card Spot. That likely means something to a large part of the fan base and shouldn’t be discounted. However, there’s no denying the truth that they’re years behind the Astros, and could easily be outpaced by both the Angels and Rangers again. Is building a team that simply hopes to compete for a play-in game a strategy that can allow the organization to overcome its obvious shortcomings? I guess we’re all going to find out together, huh.

The Case for Giancarlo

On July 28th, 2033 Giancarlo Stanton was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As his time came to speak the hulking man – the rare physical specimen for whom time seems only to adorn regality, and take nothing at all – sat quietly, a look of mild distance in his eyes.

There were ten, maybe fifteen minutes to encapsulate a seventeen year career of hitting baseballs like no one ever had before him. A few moments to speak of his time playing baseball on opposite corners of the nation; seven in Miami, ten in Seattle.

He had always been more than just another power hitter. The rules of baseball indicate any ball clearing the fence on the fly in fair territory is a home run. Plenty of players did that, and so did Giancarlo. But he used his home runs as an instrument of psychological terror.

His home runs were more than runs, they were oppression, torment; annihilation. Giancarlo Stanton home runs were Marshawn Lynch up the middle, or Shawn Kemp on the break. Oh we tallied them of course, this is baseball. “That’s home run 500!”, “Wow exit velocity of 120.3 MPH”, and so on, but these were the desperate attempts of we baseball disciples to capture gospel on the page. We wrote them in red, so people would notice, but no ink or page was sufficient, nor could it ever be.

He strode to the microphone to speak, and paused. Among the masses gathered to see him was twenty-seven year old Julie Graham, a rising star in the White Sox analytics department. Despite the ongoing season, and her employer currently leading the AL Central, Julie had been planning this trip since last summer. She was smart and ambitious, with an eye for a general manager position someday, but this was bigger even than her career.

This was about the summer of 2018, spent in a small, WWII trackhouse on Trenton St, on the east side of Bremerton, WA.

*****

Julie’s parents had split up when she was six. She lived mostly with her mom, in and around the Orwellian-sounding City of Industry in California. Her father had a tough time keeping a job, and as such his life was in the state of perpetual instability that made primary custody an easy decision for the court. But by 2016 her dad had settled in Kitsap County, and found steady employment at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It was good, union pay, and by the summer of 2018 he was able to pay off enough debt to afford renting that small rambler on Trenton St., and convince the court and Julie’s mom to let her come stay with him for the summer.

She hated it, of course. She was twelve, the dawning of the age when hate is the default setting for most things in life. She hated the small house, the small town, the way the rain stuck around into July. She hated her dad, and his friends, and the few kids she saw around the neighborhood. One Saturday a guy at the yard had a few baseball tickets he couldn’t use, and when Julie’s dad drug her to Safeco Field she was fully prepared and capable of hating that too.

They trudged to their seat, about halfway up the left field bleachers, and sat down. Julie was annoyed; the sun made it impossible to see her phone screen. Without speaking a word to her dad she got up and walked all the way to the top of the bleachers, where some shade would allow her to see, and thus escape.

THWACK

Julie’s head jerked up, something had smashed into the bleacher behind her, about twenty feet from her head.

CRASH

Once she had visited an aunt in Texas, and through a torrential Texan storm learned about baseball-sized hail. But this, this was a storm raining actual baseball-sized baseballs.

Where could it be coming from? Julie looked around her, then down to her dad, who pointed towards the other side of the stadium. She squinted down. All she could see was a tiny collection of blue and white spots. One of the spots, admittedly the least tiny of them, was standing close to home plate. Vaguely she saw a flash of something and this time, paying attention, she heard it; a menacing hiss and the accompanying whoops of the people around her as it go closer. The ball smashed about two rows in front of her, and a group of four or so immediately fell upon it.

Julie put down her phone.

*****

Giancarlo stood at the podium. The trade to bring him to Seattle was foolish, reckless, irresponsible even. All the home runs – 400, 500, 600, and on – had not turned around the franchise. They had finally broken that awful playoff-less streak by squeaking into the Wild Card in 2023. They even won the Wild Card game, but were swept out of the divisional series by the Rangers, and quickly returned to mediocrity afterwards.

Seventeen years, an MVP, Silver Sluggers, All-Star games, one of the most transcendent talents in the history of the game. But only four playoff games, no World Series, and no titles. His accomplishments lay as communal testament to his enduring greatness, but seemingly little beyond just that.

Julie Graham stood in the sun, and sweat. She drug her dad to Safeco that whole summer, all those years ago. When the next summer came she did it again, and the one after. Her newfound love of baseball made her want to know more about it, and that led to the discovery of a love of and gift for mathematics and statistics. The full ride to Stanford, the internship with the Padres, the steady progress of her career was traced back to a summer in Seattle, where a Child of Zeus himself reshaped the confines and boundaries of reality with his swings.

Giancarlo began speaking, and Julie looked around. She was far from alone.

Injuries helped make the 2017 Mariners stupid

2017, in a weird way, was one of the worst Seattle Mariners’ seasons in recent memory, and that is saying something. This is a squad that has seen two 100-plus loss seasons in the past decade, and hasn’t (as we are all quite well aware) made the playoffs since 2001.

At the end of the year, the Mariners finished the 2017 season just 78-84. Despite a couple of futile flirts with playoff potential, it was never really in the cards. The Houston Astros ran away with the A.L. West for the next 100 years by mid-May, and the Mariners were left flailing for that second wild card spot with 18 other teams. And flail they did.

Seemingly, this should have been a more exciting team than the 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, or 2013 Mariners. And yet, they weren’t. It wasn’t that the squad was hard to root for. We all rooted for those sorry loser Mariners teams from yesteryears. No, this squad had something going on with it.

Let me tell you about one of my friends. We will call him Jason, because that is his name. Jason is an Athletics fan. Baseball season works like clockwork with Jason. He begins his year complaining about how he doesn’t know more than seven players on his squad, and the year ends with knowing only two players on the squad. Jason still dutifully roots for the Athletics every year, but he is left scrambling at the end as to reasons why he should root for them, outside of sometimes that is just what being a sports fan means.

Because of injuries this year, the Mariners more resembled the Athletics than any other team in the majors. Every player who could possibly get injured seemingly got injured, and in came their replacements, who oftentimes also got injured. In the end, we were left cheering for a squad made up of players who made pacts with the devil to avoid the disabled list and a whole plethora of AAA+ guys.

Bear with me here, cause this part gets a little bit long.

  • April 2: Drew Smyly, Shawn O’ Malley, Steve Cishek, Shae Simmons, Rob Whalen, and Tony Zych placed on the DL
  • April 11: Jean Segura placed on the 10-day DL
  • April 26: Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger placed on the 10-day DL
  • April 29: Evan Scribner placed on the 10-day DL
  • May 5: James Paxton placed on the 10-day DL
  • May 6: Evan Marshall placed on the 10-day DL
  • May 10: Hisashi Iwakuma placed on the 10-day DL
  • May 14: Ryan Weber placed on the 10-day DL
  • May 16: Robinson Cano placed on the 10-day DL
  • June 3: Jean Segura placed on the 10-day DL
  • July 30: Mitch Haniger placed on the 10-day DL
  • August 5: Felix Hernandez placed on the 10-day DL
  • August 8: David Phelps placed on the 10-day DL
  • August 19: Jarrod Dyson placed on the 10-day DL
  • August 22: Tony Zych placed on the 10-day DL

Don’t worry about correcting me. I’m sure I missed a few disabled list trips in there, but the Mariners were so plagued by the injury bug this year, it was nearly impossible to have any knowledge of all nine faces that would appear on the Safeco Field board each day. And all of this isn’t even including ol’ free-wheelin’ and dealin’ Jerry Dipoto, who traded with such a ferocity that Billy Beane was impressed. Dare you get attached to a single player; because that just increases the odds that player is shipped out.

Now granted, it seems a bit odd to be critical of someone who is actively trying to make his team better by averaging 100 trades per calendar year, but at the end of the day, it is objectively a bit hard to see how the Mariners ARE actually better. The overall core of the team is still relatively same, although, there are some interesting new pieces in the mix. Many of the issues are still the same from the start of the 2017 season: dear lord we need some starting pitching and what the hell is a farm system anyway?

But the injury bug further exasperated Dipoto’s general managerial method he has displayed so far from a straight up fan perspective. There were plenty of people who found things to root for on this squad, and good for them. But it was also just as hard to not root for this team if you (me) didn’t follow their each and every move this year because you (me) had no fucking clue who actually owned a Mariners jersey. Often times, in 2017, you (me) were hard pressed to pick a dog in the fight to root for because that dog was going to be D.O.A. the very next day. The Mariners had 16 different players spend a total of 1,372 days on the disabled list this season. Seriously, to hell with that.

There are a lot in the fanbase who are slowly but surely approaching their wits end and edge of sanity through the constant futility of a squad that is rapidly approaching its second decade without any semblance of October baseball. This year, perhaps it wasn’t entirely the Mariners fault, but things have to get better sooner than later, because 2017 really took a few years off of everyone’s lives.

Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.