Right around Christmas, some MLB team is going to get a huge present under their tree in two-way free agent superstar Shohei Ohtani (or Otani). He has been called the Japanese Babe Ruth for his ability to dominate on the mound, reaching triple digits on the radar gun, and crush dingers at the plate. While a potential superstar like this would typically go to the highest bidder, this instance is a little different.
Since Shohei Ohtani is just 23 years old, he cannot be wooed like a typical free agent. Instead, teams can only use their remaining international bonus pool money, and if money were the biggest factor (it doesn’t appear to be with Ohtani leaving at least $100 million on the table to come to the big leagues two years early), then the Rangers could offer the most at $3.54 million while the Yankees are right behind them at $3.5 million.
There has been a lot of speculation out there from industry folk that Ohtani may be a better fit on an American League club since he could pitch every fifth day and then act as the team’s DH a few times a week. He has not played in the field since 2014, so keeping him at DH could be the best course of action.
While there has been no indication that an AL club would have an inside track in signing this winter’s biggest free agent, if it’s true, then that cuts the contenders for his services in half.
Time for some speculation of my own.
With Ohtani leaving the Nippon Ham Fighters before he can truly cash in, I get the sense that he has an internal need to want to prove that he can play with the big boys. You can call it confidence, arrogance or ego, but there has to be a little bit involved. All athletes have at least some.
With a level financial playing field and a soon-to-be superstar on the loose, the Oakland Athletics should be ready to make the pitch of their lives to land him. Ohtani will only be able to make the big league minimum next season, which is a price point that even Oakland would find reasonable. This is the kind of player that they typically don’t get a chance at, and yet here we are. Let’s look at some of the reasons why the A’s may actually be able to land the biggest fish on the market this offseason.
Both the Mariners and Rangers have had success bringing over Japanese players in the past in Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish, and some believe that that gives them a leg up on signing yet another Japanese star. But if ego plays a role, then Ohtani may want to forge his own path and not follow in someone else’s footsteps, so their previous success in landing Japanese stars could actually work against both Texas and Seattle this time around.
After the A’s shipped away Sonny Gray at the trade deadline last summer, Oakland doesn’t have anyone who has emerged as their next true “ace” just yet. The odds are that Sean Manaea will be that guy with the way the roster is currently constructed, but if Shohei Ohtani were to be thrown in the mix, he would be the de-facto ace. He’d be “the guy.”
To that point, the A’s can offer him something that just about nobody else can. They’re a team on the rise, and he would become the face of the franchise overnight. The Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Astros all made the playoffs last season and have their own franchise player(s). The Twins also briefly made the postseason last year. The Royals, Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays are all teams in flux with their in-house superstars either about to depart via free agency, or potentially via trade.
The Tigers are still tearing down their team to begin a rebuild effort, and while the White Sox are further along in their own rebuild, they have already put faces up on their marquee.
That would leave the A’s and Angels as the remaining two teams left vying for his services, and if Ohtani wants to be The Guy, then sharing the stage with Mike Trout would be fairly difficult I’d imagine.
Another reason that Oakland may have a leg up on the competition is that they could start him in the majors on opening day, something that a team that made the playoffs last year may try to skirt around while they make yet another postseason push. The A’s, who are still probably a year away from competing for a wild card spot, can offer him that time and space to grow at the big league level without losing out on a postseason berth. In fact, having him on the roster may be enough of a boon to push them in.
The New York Yankees have won 27 championships and they look like they could be primed to go on adding to that total in the coming years. The Cardinals have the second-most Series wins with eleven, but they reside in the National League, so if we’re keeping with the same train of thought, they’re out. Oakland has the third-most in MLB history and haven’t won since 1989. They have some sneaky prestige that could be appealing and haven’t won recently enough for the core to still be in town.
In both 2008 and 2012 the A’s started their seasons in the Tokyo Dome. Ohtani would have been 13 and 17 for those games, which are formative years. There is a chance that seeing the same team come over to start their season at those times could have had some sort of an impact on him, or potentially helped him build a connection with the club. This one is a little bit of a reach, sure, but it’s still a possibility.
If Shohei Ohtani is really coming to the majors to play against the best competition in the world, then why join a team that’s already at the top? Why not join an emerging team and go head-to-head against the current World Series champions 19 times a year?
The Bay Area is a great place to help someone assimilate to a new culture. San Francisco is a big city, but it’s harder to get into real trouble with the night life. The city does in fact go to sleep. There are also plenty of surrounding communities with large Japanese populations, like Berkeley and San Jose. There is enough to do to help him unwind after a long day, but not so much to do that he would lose focus on his ultimate goals on the baseball diamond: Hearing the fans cheer when his career is all said and done.
What more could a young superstar ask for?
Featured Image: 2017 Bowman Chrome