ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ichiro Suzuki paved the way for two-way standout Shohei Ohtani and other Japanese position players to come to Major League Baseball with his outstanding 12-year career with the Mariners.
So naturally, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto was asked questions about his team's potential pursuit of the 23-year-old Ohtani or a possible return of Ichiro, who is a free agent, when speaking to reporters Monday on the first day of the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Ohtani figures to be the trendy topic throughout this Hot Stove season after the Nippon Ham Fighters announced last week that they'll make their young star available to Major League teams through the posting system this winter.
"Obviously the Fighters have acknowledged they're going to post him and Ohtani himself has suggested he'd like to try his trade in MLB. We'll see where it goes," Dipoto said. "But he's an incredibly talented player. We, like 29 other clubs, have scouted him extensively. I'm sure whether it's the Nippon Ham Fighters or somebody else, they're going to be incredibly fortunate to have him."
Dipoto and Mariners vice president of scouting Tom Allison went to Japan to see Ohtani and other Japanese prospects play in September. The Mariners have a strong history with Japanese players, with at least one player from Japan on their roster every season since 1998, due in part to Japanese ownership through Nintendo from 1992-2016.
Nintendo of America sold its majority ownership last year, but it still has a minority interest in the Mariners.
Clearly the Mariners have interest in Ohtani, who has been called the "Babe Ruth of Japan" for his ability both as a hard-throwing right-hander and his prowess as a left-handed-hitting outfielder and designated hitter.
Dipoto referenced Ruth when asked about the allure of such a two-way talent.
"I can only think of one other time that it's ever happened and that was well before I was born," he said. "He's obviously an incredibly talented player and whoever gets him will be quite happy, I'm sure. It's a unique skill set and there's a reason why he's attracted so much attention. He deserves it."
As for Ichiro? The 44-year-old right fielder became a free agent when the Marlins declined a $2 million team option on his expiring contract. Seattle will either need to re-sign its own free agent, Jarrod Dyson, or pursue another veteran outfielder to supplement the young trio of Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, but it would seem unlikely a reunion with Ichiro is in the offing.
Dipoto expressed strong appreciation for the 10-time Mariners All-Star and his history in Seattle.
"I've always admired what he's done, whether it be scouting him or playing in the same division while he was with Seattle when I first got to Anaheim, or in the years since just watching what he's accomplished," Dipoto said. "He's one of the best baseball players in history, regardless of where they've played. And as such, he should be respected.
"I think his history and legacy in Seattle is both important to the franchise and important to Ichiro. So the fact he's now a free agent, it certainly leaves a door open. That being said, we have to address our needs and in what order they go."
Dipoto noted the team must replace free agents Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia at first base as well as Dyson, while also looking at bolstering a pitching staff that was beset by injuries in 2017.
"We do have vacancies at first base and center field and to some degree in the ability to upgrade our pitching. So I'm not entirely sure right now that that would be a priority for us," he said. "But it's a priority to deal with Ichiro's legacy, however that might transpire or define itself for us. We are aware he's there."