Shohei Ohtani has surprisingly included the San Diego Padres among his seven MLB finalists.
Long before Shohei Ohtani released the finalists of his MLB recruiting extravaganza, we knew he was cut from a different cloth. Ohtani seems too good to be true. He throws 102 mph when he dials back, hits 450-foot moonshots and runs like Mike Trout in the outfield (seriously, at least one scout has him rated with 80-grade speed). And apparently, all he really wants to do is play baseball.
Ohtani is also an interesting fellow in that money is really not on his mind at all. Had he been willing to spend two more years lighting it up in Japan, the 23-year-old would have stood to receive a $200-million deal. Instead, he’s coming over to MLB now because he thinks he’s ready. Now, he is only eligible for a $3.5-million bonus and the league rookie minimum salary.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime player, and every team has the ability to sign him for under $25 million at max. What a steal.
The speculation machine ramped up to full power after MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball finalized a posting agreement. With the New York Yankees stockpiling international bonus pool dollars since last summer, it was obvious they were gearing up to make an aggressive push to land Ohtani, but he surprisingly had no interest in playing for the winningest team in MLB history.
Cue the backlash, because, lest you forget, anyone who doesn’t want to play in New York is soft and a loser.
With the entire East Coast out of the running, Ohtani has settled on seven finalists for his services. They are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. Most of those teams make sense…but…the Padres? The Padres?
Judging by Ohtani’s list, it’s very obvious that he only wants to play on the West Coast and has stated his preference to play in a smaller market. The Rangers make sense because of Yu Darvish’s history with the team. The Cubs feel like a longshot, but why rule out playing for a budding dynasty who needs an ace if you’re Ohtani?
Seattle and San Francisco obviously make sense for their West Coast locations and relatively smaller market size. The Mariners have a great deal of history with Japanese players like Ichiro Suzuki and Hisashi Iwakuma, while the Giants have three World Series titles since 2010 and a favorable environment for pitching.
The Padres stick out like a sore thumb on this list of finalists to sign Ohtani, but maybe their presence should not be so surprising. San Diego is now led by A.J. Preller, who signed Darvish to the Rangers. The team has also fostered a close relationship with Ohtani’s team in Japan and employs Japanese legend Hideo Nomo as an adviser on the international scene. Ohtani has also trained at the team’s facility in Arizona during the offseason.
Still, it feels next-to-impossible to wrap your head around the most exciting international prospect in decades signing with the franchise with the worst winning percentage in MLB history and one playoff win since 1998. The Padres have finished over .500 only 14 times since joining the league in 1969. Their best manager, Bruce Bochy, actually has a losing record.
Remember, though, we know absolutely nothing about what really makes Shohei Ohtani tick. Money is obviously not on his mind, so you can’t rule out the Padres over their $300,000 available bonus. He wants a small market on the West Coast, and San Diego, while a top-10 U.S. city in terms of population, has a small-market media feel. There is also a sense that he would prefer to play for a team without another Japanese superstar, and the Padres have never had any notable Japanese players suit up for them.
It’s easy to make the assumption that Ohtani could be easily wooed by the money and rings of the Yankees, but there are other things that matter more to him. What he is attempting to do as a two-way player is a grand experiment. Would it not be better to make this attempt with some control on his part? The Padres are still several years away from contending. They can afford to give Ohtani time to figure it out at the plate — where he is expected to have a more difficult time — without feeling the pressure to yank him out of the lineup every time he inevitably slumps. If all Ohtani wants to do is prove he can be the greatest overall baseball player in history, than doing it in an environment as pressure-free as possible certainly makes sense.
This entire process has been fascinating to observe, and it’s only getting started. Ohtani and his camp have done a phenomenal job keeping the ball squarely in their own court and controlling the entire process. All along, the Padres have been the one team to cultivate and work on a relationship with the budding superstar. Now, a big reward could be coming their way.