Have you ever seen those images captured from really powerful microscopes, the ones in which dust particles are meteorites and a carpet swatch is a dense forest? The subjects are so highly magnified that the viewer loses all sense of perspective can’t reconcile what they’re seeing with what they perceive as reality. Such is the case with Shohei Ohtani, particularly after the sweeping round of cuts made to the teams vying for his services.
Only seven teams — the Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Padres, Angels, Cubs, and Rangers — will actually be meeting with Ohtani and his reps. That means all 23 other teams, even the Yankees, are out of the running. If you spent any time on Twitter Sunday night, you no doubt saw all manner of reactions to the constant flow of news, all of which got me thinking.
There was a great deal of surprise, among national and beat writers too, that the Yankees didn’t make the cut and that certain other teams did. But should there have been? I mean, a lot of this stuff has been right out there in the open the whole time, it’s just that maybe some folks were too close to see it for what it is.
With that in mind, I wanted to run through a few of the themes that have emerged and maybe toot my own horn on a couple of them.
This was the ultimate case of perception warping reality, as the Yankees were viewed by many industry insiders as the odds-on favorites to land Ohtani. But that’s because people were blindly viewing them as THE YANKEES without taking the time to properly frame the situation.
In Ohtani, we’re talking about a very deliberate individual who is clearly not concerned with the same things we’re used to seeing with other athletes. Despite all we’d heard and read about his process and preferences, the Yankees were seen as this ethereal entity that would draw Ohtani like a moth to a porch light.
Almost everyone ignored the fact that the Yankees were without a manager until Friday, finally hiring Aaron Boone the same day Ohtani was posted. Okay, so they actually have a skipper now, but that might have actually hurt them. I’m sure Boone is a good dude and he’s beloved by his former media colleagues, but he has never managed a day in his life.[Brian Cashman shouting while rappelling down the side of a building] Hey, Shohei, we think you can do what no one else has done in the last half-century or more and that you can do so under the guidance of a manager who’s never managed, all while playing in a city that has zero tolerance for failure. Sound good?
Many couched Ohtani’s decision to avoid New York as some sort of indication that he’s too soft, which, whatever. Maybe he’s just not willing to put up with the sort of inflammatory BS headlines like the one the New York Daily News ran immediately after the Yankees had been spurned.
WHAT A CHICKEN! Japan star snubs Yanks, fears big city
The editor(s) that approved that need to hop in their douche canoe and paddle up the Hudson River for a while, man.
I’ll keep this one short because it’s the most plainly obvious of the bunch. But since people kept referencing how teams were out of the race despite have $X in international pool money, I figured I’d bring it up again. The bonus money is not, nor has it ever been, a relevant factor.
Sure, Ohtani might sign with the Rangers, whose available bonus is greater than the next two highest remaining teams combined (Mariners – $1.557M; Angels – $1.315) and is almost equal to all six other teams’ combined total. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Padres are all limited to $300,000, yet all three made the cut.
Huh, it’s almost like money really isn’t the issue here. We’ve been saying that for months, specifically in this piece about the Cubs having a better chance in light of the overall bonus pool situation.
Why send out questionnaire?
One big question making the rounds Sunday evening went something like, “Why would Ohtani bother to have all 30 teams submit those written exams if he was just going to cut them down so quickly?” And this isn’t just salty fans, some of this is coming from beat writers.
Why make teams “do that dance?” I don’t know, why look at the menu when you’ve been to the restaurant a few times before? Perhaps, and I know this is pretty crazy, Ohtani wanted to see whether a particular team really blew him away or made him aware of a unique value prop that he hadn’t previously been aware of.
All but three teams — one of which was the Marlins, whose penny-pinching ways meant that they were unwilling to pay the $20 million release fee should they win — actually responded to the memo, though whether and how many were actually reviewed is not known. We recently looked at an interview Ohtani gave to MLB.com back in February and one of the answers is particularly enlightening here.
MLB.com: What are the most important factors in deciding on an MLB team?
Ohtani: The people on the team and in charge of the team is what matters most. I need to have a feeling of wanting to play for them.
Even if the submissions didn’t add any teams to the list of favorites he’d already had in mind, it’s entirely possible that an organization may have cost itself a shot by half-assing their response. I’m not necessarily saying that the Yankees or Red Sox were eliminated thusly, but it’s not altogether impossible that at least one of them rested on their considerable laurels.
What are the Cubs’ chances?
While it’s easy to see all the West Coast bias in Ohtani’s list of teams and think the Cubs are at the back of the pack, I can’t help but wonder if that’s really the case. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted that MLB execs believe the Mariners are the favorites at this point, but there are two issues with that.
First, they were saying the same thing about the Yankees a few hours before Nightengale’s tweet. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it’s coming from the same man who reported that the Cubs were over the luxury tax for 2017, among other things. Still, it makes sense that Seattle would have a leg up; it’s a wonderful city and is the closest, geographically speaking, of all those in the running to Ohtani’s home country.
So do the Cubs really stand a chance?
David Kaplan is reporting that the Cubs “have poured considerable time and money into their recruitment of Shohei Ohtani” and that “they are a major threat to sign him.” He adds that “Theo and Jed are being incredibly creative with their pitch…pulling out all of the stops to impress Ohtani.”
Cubs have poured considerable time + money into their recruitment of Shohei Ohtani. According to an executive of a rival team that was eliminated they are a major threat to sign him. However, others I spoke with still believe West Coast teams have the advantage.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) December 4, 2017
MLB executive just told me that Theo and Jed are pulling out all of the stops to impress Ohtani. “Theo and Jed are being incredibly creative with their pitch. They’ve thought of everything. And I mean everything. Still going to be tough to land him but they are in there hard.”
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) December 4, 2017
I’m not sure exactly what’s involved in “pulling out all of the stops,” but I have no doubt in Thed Epstoyer’s ability to do it effectively. More than anything else over the course of this whole Ohtani saga, it’s the front office that has led me to believe that the Cubs were absolutely in the running.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are incredibly driven and have proven very savvy when it comes to discerning what makes players tick both on and off the field.
Of all the legitimate reasons and the various baseball-centric rationale I’ve used, there’s another facet to this that weighs heavily in the Cubs’ favor. And that is the fact that when Epstein and Hoyer set their minds on something, they almost always get it done. From world championships to coveted free agents, they have routinely hit the bullseye on even the most far-fetched targets.
With money seemingly irrelevant in this particular matter, I have this (possibly irrational) belief that the Cubs will be able to convey their urgency to Ohtani in a way that he can really dig.
There’s something else about this that makes me think the Cubs have a better shot than people think, and it has to do with the talk about Ohtani’s preferred geographical destination. Chicago is, after all, on the West Coast…of Lake Michigan. And while it’s a longer flight from O’Hare to Japan, we’re only talking about three more hours than what would otherwise be a roughly 10-hour trip.
In all serious as far as location is concerned, the Cubs’ presence in this final group tells me that Ohtani is very, very serious about considering them. Perhaps it’s my inherent bias getting the best of me, but I see the inclusion of seemingly incongruous teams — throw the Rangers in here too — as a sign that their intrinsic benefits are viewed as significant enough to make them legit options. In fact, they may be even more so, since it means being farther from home.
As much as I’ve come to keep Nightengale’s reports at arm’s length, I’ve thought for some time that Seattle was out in front. The Angels could be at the top as well. But I truly do believe that the Cubs are right there and that their pitch could turn the tide.
All things considered, this whole thing is playing out more or less the same way we should have seen that it would. If, that is, we were all able to shake off the cumbersome strictures of perception and expectancy. Shohei Ohtani has produced a different situation from any we’ve seen before, which is perhaps why I’ve been so fascinated by it.