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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Mariners mailbag: Will Seattle continue a 25-year streak of having a Japanese-born player on the roster?

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 20, 2021

Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, right, talks with teammates before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, right, talks with teammates before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Twitter mailbag returns from its own work stoppage that featured mostly rest instead of unrest. With the Hot Stove season failing to truly ignite beyond a few starting pitcher signings and all signs pointing to the Major League Baseball owners locking out the players when the collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on Dec. 1, the ensuing transaction freeze could make the winter months interminable.

In a rare change, the mailbag will try to be a ray of sunshine during that endless run of dreary days that feel dark both literally and figuratively.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but based on our Japanese signings (Kikuchi, Iwakuma, Ichiro, Sasaki), the Mariners have had at least one Japanese player on their roster every year since 2000 right? Obviously Nintendo ownership plays a role but wonder if that trend favors signing Seiya.” –@SeanHQuinn

Sean, you are wrong in only the length of time that the Mariners have had a Japanese player on their 40-man roster.

Starting on July 7, 1996, when right-handed pitcher Makoto “Mac” Suzuki made his MLB debut against the Rangers, becoming the third Japanese-born player to play in an MLB game and the first on an American League team, the Mariners have had a Japanese-born player on their roster every season. He missed all of 1997 with an injury, returned to the mound in 1998 and was with the Mariners through 1999.

After Suzuki, the list of players include:

• Kazahiro Sasaki, RHP (2000-2003)

• Shigetoshi Hasegawa, RHP (2001-2005)

• Masao Kida, RHP (2004-2005)

• Ichiro Suzuki, RF (2001-2012, 2018-2019)

• Kenji Johjima, C (2006-2009)

• Munenori Kawasaki, IF (2012)

• Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP (2012-2017)

• Nori Aoki, OF (2016)

• Yusei Kikuchi, LHP (2018-2021)

• Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP (2020)

Obviously, having Nintendo of America taking over as the principal owner of the team in 1992 had some influence in signing Japanese players. Even now with John Stanton as the chairman and principal owner, Nintendo of America is still a minority owner with influence.

With Kikuchi declining a $13 million player option for 2022, the Mariners’ streak of having a Japanese player on the 40-man roster could come to an end … maybe.

General manager Jerry Dipoto made it clear at the recent GM meetings and on subsequent radio appearances that the team has great interest in signing slugging outfielder Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

“I think Seiya is a wonderful player,” Dipoto said. “We’ve had a great opportunity to scout him. We’ve seen him both far and wide in video and we’ve seen him live. I will say, we’re not going to choose to start the season without a Japanese player. There’s always opportunities.”

Per multiple reports from Japanese news outlets, Suzuki, 27, has requested that the Carp enter him into the “posting system,” which would allow him out of the Carp’s control and free to sign with an MLB team.

Following a meeting with team officials at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima, Suzuki, a five-time All-Star, told reporters:

“I shared my feelings with them a little while ago. Trying to crack the big leagues means moving up a level. I felt my time has come, so I told them I wanted to take up the challenge. I am prepared to take the risk.”

Suzuki posted a .319/.436/.640 slash line with 26 doubles, 38 homers, 88 RBIs, 87 walks and 86 strikeouts for Hiroshima last season.

But the posting system, which is a 30-day period for Suzuki to negotiate a deal with an MLB team that includes the Carp receiving financial compensation, is also subject to the transaction freeze during a lockout.

“Assuming I already know the answer to this, but will we be able to find out which FAs Dipoto is meeting with face-to-face before the meetings happen?” –@HilmSerenity

Even though Dipoto tries to be as transparent as possible, it seems unlikely he would disclose that information to the public for a variety of reasons. But the Twitter rumors that a die-hard Mariners fan showed up to Carmite to see if Dipoto was treating free-agent outfielder Mark Canha to a meal of rabbit stew doesn’t seem to help matters.

Instead, I will try to get confirmation from agents, sources around MLB or in the Mariners organization. And like so many others, I will also be relegated to stalking the Twitter and Instagram accounts of free-agent players to see if they offer any hints to potential meetings with the Mariners or other teams.

“Do you have any insight on what the sales pitch to come to Seattle is? As in, how does Jerry and Co. try to get players to Seattle?” –@Moves_Like_Judy

Pick your quote:

“Straight cash, homey!”

“CTC … Cut the check.”

“Dolla, dolla bills, y’all.”

If you want to sign a free agent, you have to “show them the money.” OK, I will stop now. But realistically that is the No. 1 selling point. For midlevel free agents, it’s additional financial security for them and their children. For top-tier free agents, it’s about generational wealth, the status of being one of the highest-paid players.

I’ve used the scenario before, but when the Mariners wanted to sign Nelson Cruz, perhaps their best free-agent signing in the past 20 years, he had multiple three-year contract offers going into the 2015 season.

The Mariners were willing to give him the fourth year and he signed.

Obviously, Dipoto can’t sell free agents on postseason history. But he can push the young core of talented and exciting players, the stadium and city – Seattle is one of the most popular road stops – and the expected commitment to get to the postseason.

Dipoto: “Do you want to be part of the team that stops the longest current postseason drought in pro sports?”

Me: “Sure, for the right price.”

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