The question of whether Shohei Ohtani can successfully lead a big league rotation and serve as a legitimate member of its offense on a semi-regular basis is one of the most fascinating storylines in recent memory, and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports takes an excellent look at the viability of that scenario. Brown spoke to GM, scouts, coaches and players throughout the league, and though the prevailing opinion was that while it would be difficult and unlikely, there’s also a sentiment that those in the industry are nonetheless rooting for Ohtani to succeed at both.
Rays righty Chris Archer tells Brown that a successful two-way player would “change our perspective” on the game. Archer and free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth both chatted with Brown about their daily schedules and recovery programs, which Brown uses as a means of illustrating the challenges of Ohtani successfully serving as a starter and a DH/outfielder. Brown also talks with former pitcher/outfielder Rick Ankiel about the summer he spent as a starter and a DH in A-ball. Ankiel suggests that the true question isn’t one of whether Ohtani can physically handle a two-way role but rather one of whether Ohtani can thrive in both areas. “Can he be great at both here?” Ankiel asks rhetorically. “That depends on how good he really is.”
Some other notes on the game’s most intriguing free-agent-to-be, who should be formally posted by Saturday…
- The Athletics can only offer $300K to Ohtani after exceeding last year’s allotted international pool, but Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports a detailed account of their pitch to Ohtani. Oakland is will to not only let Ohtani hit but also play the outfield on occasion, she notes, and their sales pitch also centers around an emerging young core of comparably aged players to Ohtani — led by Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. The A’s hope to be in a new ballpark by 2023, if not sooner and are hoping to sell Ohtani on helping them usher in that new facility as one of the faces of the team. They also highlighted manager Bob Melvin’s relationship with Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui as well as Oakland’s relative proximity to Japan, among many other aspects.
- Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports that the Angels have “earmarked” the $1.315MM they now have in their international pool after today’s trade with the Braves for a pursuit of Ohtani.
- The Phillies haven’t been mentioned in connection with Ohtani, but MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes that they do plan to take their shot at landing him, even if they’re considered long shots. The Phils have $900K to offer Ohtani in terms of a signing bonus, and new skipper Gabe Kapler spent a season playing in Nippon Professional Baseball, giving him some familiarity with Japanese baseball and culture. Zolecki also notes that former Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, a senior advisor in the front office, enjoyed an excellent six-year career in NPB and is likely a known name for Ohtani, even if Manuel wrapped up his playing career before Ohtani was born. Nonetheless, the Phils will also need to convince Ohtani that their rebuilding club is near contention, and Zolecki further notes that other markets like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle have considerably larger Japanese populations and communities.
- Pennsylvania’s other MLB club may also be a long shot, but Pirates GM Neal Huntington still spoke optimistically in his team’s ability to make a competitive pitch for Ohtani in a recent appearance with Chris Mueller and Joe Starkey on 93.7 The Fan. “We are going to do everything in our power, and hopefully, have him honor us with the ability to get beyond the written presentation, get beyond the initial 30-club presentation and really dig into why it would be an honor for us to have him become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” said Huntington. In terms of potential bonus offer, the Bucs are one of the better-positioned teams, with a bit more than $2.2MM to offer, but Ohtani is widely expected to make far more through endorsements than his initial signing bonus anyhow, so the bonus itself may not be an enormous separator.
- David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago writes that the Cubs have sent scouts to Japan to watch Ohtani for weeks at a time in the past, and some rivals believe the Cubs to be a serious threat to land him. One exec remarks to Kaplan that president of baseball ops Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have success in setting up support systems for international stars thanks to their acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox in the 2006-07 offseason. The Cubs are capped at a $300K signing bonus, though again, that doesn’t appear to be as significant a strike against them as it would be in the pursuit of a more traditional free agent.
- Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals crafted a presentation in English, which international scouting assistant Taisuke Sato then translated to Japanese for Ohtani’s consumption. Janes notes that the Nationals, who are also capped at $300K, cannot compete financially in terms of signing bonus and don’t have previous experience in signing Japanese players under GM Mike Rizzo to demonstrate a proven plan for helping an NPB star transition to the Majors. That said, the team has very recently made a significant investment in its medical staff, boasts a new Spring Training facility and a fairly new ballpark in D.C., and can attempt to sell Ohtani on the allure of joining an immediate contender with an open rotation spot. Janes paints the Nats as long shots but notes that they, like all 30 other clubs, will at least perform their due diligence in attempting to entire Ohtani.