I don’t think any organisation was putting all their eggs in Shohei Ohtani’s basket, but it is understood that all 30 MLB organisations had answered the questionnaire circulated asking them why they would be the best fit for the Japanese two-way sensation, thus suggesting they all at least had an interest of at least $20 million to pay the posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Ohtani was officially posted on the first of the month (December), starting the clock for him to sign a deal to join the Majors – a minor league deal at that. With all teams submitting their completed questionnaires, they had in essence all bought a ticket for the raffle; less than 48 hours later, half of the MLB teams have seen their dreams shattered (whether realistic or not) as Ohtani’s representatives, CAA, began telling clubs he would not be joining their ball club. The clubs yet to announce if they are still in the running, or are being reported as ‘having a chance’, will be given a chance to meet directly with Ohtani to persuade him to join; the rumour-mill seems to be suggesting there is a ‘West-coast’ feel surrounding Ohtani’s outlook.
There will no doubt be more teams to drop out of the sweepstakes, but at least the teams already told ‘thanks, but no thanks’ can begin planning for 2018 without finding a way to squeeze in the superstar. We look at potential reasons why some clubs were given the cold shoulder, and where they’ll turn next.
New York Yankees
No doubt the biggest shock to come out of the early Ohtani news was that the Yankees were not even going to get a seat at the table with the superstar to try and persuade him to play in the Bronx. One of the early favourites, East Atlantic Look even tipped him to land there, Brian Cashman came out to publicly say that though their presentation was well received with ‘outstanding feedback’, they wouldn’t be moving further. Whilst the Pinstripes no doubt had a great season in 2017, and will be projected to emulate that if not improve upon that in 2018, it’s hard not to feel that their lack of urgency appointing a manager may have hampered their chances when it comes to attracting the Japanese superstar – it’s hard to say ‘yes’ to somewhere when you don’t know who you’ll be playing for? Couple that with Ohtani’s ‘West-coast dream’ and even thought the Yankees traded for more money in their international spending pool, ultimately their postcode didn’t fit.
Without Ohtani to add to the rotation, and contact having been made with New York legend CC Sabathia about returning, there is a feeling that the Yanks may be shaping up to head into 2018 with a familiar feel to last time around. With Masahiro Tanaka committing (unexpectedly after his ’17 post-season), and CC possibly returning, the Yankees rotation could well be identical to how it finished. Finding a Designated Hitter should be top of the new boss’ ‘to-do list’; Jacob Ellsbury is being projected as their starter at present. Ellsbury won’t excite many having declined significantly (most notably in durability) in recent years, and it may be best for the Yankees to cash in for some prospects whilst they can, meaning they need a DH. With limited explicit DH’s on the Free Agent market, picking up a bat like J.D. Martinez or Carlos Santana and splitting their time between DH and the OF/1B respectively wouldn’t be the worst move. Left field call? Sign Jonathan Lucroy (a year removed from batting .292) as a back-up catcher who can share time behind the plate and as a DH with Gary Sanchez – we’re still less than convinced by his work behind the plate but his power cannot be knocked, DH would suit him perfectly but at 25 will he want pigeon-holed? We’re not convinced that Austin Romine is the best back-up – an average bat and poor arm – trading him away and freeing up a back-up place would be fairly forward thinking – Lucroy would be guaranteed near 500 PAs if fit and Sanchez would be able to play every game. Hey, maybe train him into a 1B over the next couple of Spring Training sessions and then get a full-time catcher for 2020?
Boston Red Sox
Dave Dombrowski announced early that the Red Sox had ‘not been invited to make an in-person presentation’ – sucks, right? At least they weren’t the only ‘big dog’ to fall at the first hurdle. Boston may feel as though their small (in comparison) international signing pool was a factor, though some teams still in the mix have comparable amounts and less so the geographical excuse is likely more suitable. The Rox thought they were in-play on Ohtani having housed some Japanese stars in the past, and no doubt would have mentioned their need for a DH bat as well as a back of the rotation guy. Maybe Ohtani knows imself that his arm is what will earn him the big money and that top of the rotation is more important to him than originally thought.
The Rox still need a big bat, and having now missed out on Ohtani and likely out the race for Stanton, attention will turn to the Free Agent market and trades. Still a big player on Martinez, there is talk that the Red Sox could make a play for Eric Hosmer, though there is one ‘big bat’ there and one on-base guy – Boston need the former. It’s getting to the stage that Boston may be beginning to regret not listening to David Ortiz and taking a bolder line on Edwin Encarnacion in last year’s FA market, especially considering the contract he ultimately signed. They likely have to give up too much for him in a trade to make it worthwhile now, but unable to afford to wait it out until the 2018 FA class for a bat, the Rox will need to act fast to have a chance in 2017 – is there pursuit of Jose Abreu the answer? I’d give up the pick and get some pop back to Fenway Park; sign Martinez to a multi-year, line Scott Boras’ pockets and contend properly in 2018.
The Twins were getting a lot of airtime as sleepers on Ohtani; a smaller franchise on the back of a postseason with some good assets but where he would still be undoubtedly the ‘big fish’. It’s hard to know explicitly why certain teams were shooed out, but maybe Ohtani feels the Twins will be nearer their 100-loss season of 2016 than the 2017 Wild-Card heroes. This will be the first off-season that the new Twins Front Office have to build their ‘own’ team – there have already been some backroom staff changes, but don’t expect anything too major to happen on the front benches, especially after Paul Molitor was named American League Manager of the Year for 2017.
Expect the Twins to dip into the FA market for a starting pitcher and a big bat – keeping as much of the 2017 core together as possible will be key, but additions for those lost too free agency/non-tendered is always important. Likely to be priced out of many of the big names, the Twins could do worse than offering multi-year deals to Michael Pinada who will be back after Tommy-John surgery, likely lowering his expectancy of potential earnings. As for a bat, a lot depends on their arbitration feelings towards Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza – a utility infielder could be needed as cover or alongside Brian Dozier – Ryan Goins on a very cheap deal now Toronto Blue Jays have non-tendered him? Otherwise it could be a case of risk-taking for the Twins – Alex Avila depending on price could be a bounce-back candidate.
Did they need him? Were they just in it on the off chance? With two of the best pitchers in baseball leading the rotation, and not bad depth behind him, the Nationals probably didn’t need to go in too hard on Ohtani. Couple that with a lack of DH to offer at-bats, and a pretty stacked outfield with MVP calibre players, the Nationals are likely one of a few clubs that are not too sorry to miss out on him. Had they landed him, it may have been a case of seeing how he does and how good he really is before the 2018 free agency and Bryce Harper hitting the market – I’d be amazed if ‘the opportunity to play alongside Harper and behind the best starters in the Majors’ wasn’t in the original submission, but it may have just been filling lines. Anyway, the Nationals have the capital to just pay big on Ohtani in a couple of years if they want him and he is proven by that stage, around the time they’ll need new starters…
I only put them here as the A’s are seemingly the only west-coast side to be ruled out explicitly at the early stage. Not sure they were ever a realistic candidate, but there were hypothetical (more ‘imagine if…’) scenarios bounced around saying that Ohtani may have an obscure affiliation to somewhere rouge due to a random link – I’m not sure how big Moneyball is in Japan.
These aren’t the only teams to miss out on the face-to-face meet – the so called ‘Round 2’ – and in the end 29 teams will fall short, of those still left in the hat, west-coast clubs are being tipped, leading many to think that LA Dodgers or San Francisco Giants are the favourites – can San Fran really land both ‘big names’ of the off-season in Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton? San Diego Padres are the big sleepers on this – there’s a long way to go in this one, but it’s certainly got everyone fixated. Baseball’s answer to X Factor, something whoever lands him certainly hopes Ohtani has.
Hold tight, James Dawne.