Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani is ready to bring his talents to Major League Baseball, and there has not been a player like him in decades.
It’s one of the most intriguing cases of free agency in my lifetime. Japan’s Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani, is forcing his way over to Major League Baseball and potentially leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. Because he is still only 23, Ohtani must go through the same international signing rules as the teenagers that come out of Latin America every year.
Those rules will set up one of the most fascinating pursuits of a free agent in MLB history. Ohtani is effectively a five-star recruit, and every team must pitch him on why they are the best fit. The right-hander will not be in line for a gargantuan bonus like Japanese imports like Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsusaka who came before him. The most Ohtani will claim is just over $3.5 million.
Ohtani has effectively signaled that he is not out for money alone. It will be all about the relationship, opportunity to win and fit when he does sign. The MLBPA and Japanese baseball league are still trying to come to terms on the posting process, but Ohtani will find a way to make the leap to Major League Baseball for the 2018 season one way or another.
The 23-year-old is the best two-way prospect to come along in decades, and he is set on trying to make it work as both a pitcher and a hitter. In five seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters, he is a .286/.358/.500 hitter with 30 home runs in 525 at-bats over the past two years. On the mound, he has gone 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine. Ohtani’s 2017 season as a pitcher was cut short due to arm issues, but he has been managed very well to this point of his career, never throwing more than 160 innings in a single year.
Ohtani’s preference to remain a hitter would seem to rule out every National League team as a potential landing spot. It’s difficult to imagine a GM feeling great about having a potential number-one starter playing left field a few days a week. His best arrangement would involve time at DH between starts. I’m also assuming that even though money isn’t a huge concern up front, Ohtani would still prefer to play in a major media market. So, with those caveats, these are the top five potential landing spots for Shohei Ohtani.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The 2017 season was one to forget for the Toronto Blue Jays, who sunk to fourth place in the AL East due to a combination of injury, age and anemic offense. Projected ace Aaron Sanchez made only eight starts and threw 36 innings while dealing with blister issues all year long. That should be an easily correctable problem, especially, if, you know, MLB stops juicing the baseballs and the seams go back to normal.
The Jays are an attractive potential landing spot for Shohei Ohtani and they could certainly use his services to fill out their rotation and add a power bat to a lineup seeking direction after the end of the Jose Bautista/Edwin Encarnacion era. Ohtani would slide right into an already solid rotation, bumping Joe Biagini back to the bullpen.
Toronto is a large, cosmopolitan city with plenty of international marketing juice. Sporting culture in the city is second to none, and the fans are wildly passionate about their teams. Even with their struggles last season, the Jays are still set up to win thanks to a solid starting rotation and top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they have hardly any money left in their international bonus pool to make a competitive offer to Ohtani. Toronto has only $50,000 left to spend, which pales in comparison to some of the other teams figuring to make a big push to land the phenom. However, the Blue Jays are still worthy of consideration for Ohtani, and he does not seem overly focused on money. There are other ways to make the money back off the field, and Canada’s biggest market offers plenty of opportunities in that regard.