Ed. note: Much of what follows was written with the assumption that the reader knows what’s going on with Shohei Ohtani, which is clearly not true of everyone. As a very basic primer, his acquisition cost includes only an international free agent bonus ranging from $10,000 to $3.53 million and a rookie contract. So we’re talking about anywhere from way less to waaaaaaaaaaaaay less than a top draft pick would cost, and Ohtani’s talent is definitely comparable to a those guys.
In keeping with that age-old Thanksgiving tradition of repurposing the ingredients of the main meal, I thought I’d put my own spin on a couple of topics that have already gotten some run here and elsewhere. And since the hot stove is taking forever to come to temp, I had to microwave these takes. As such, they might still be a cold in the center.
It should come as no surprise to anyone with even cursory knowledge of the Shohei Ohtani saga that another unique chapter was added this weekend. In a memo distributed through the commissioner’s office, Ohtani’s representatives have requested written explanations from every MLB team telling why they would be the best fit for the Japanese superstar.
The memo was released by Nez Balelo, Ohtani’s primary agent and the co-head of CAA’s baseball division, and asks teams to specifically address several specific topics in both English and Japanese (if possible). Among the listed criteria are an evaluation of Ohtani’s talent as a pitcher and/or hitter; full description of player development, medical, training and player-performance philosophies and facilities; a description of minor league and spring training facilities; details on resources for Ohtani’s cultural assimilation into both the city and organization; and why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play.
While this might seem like an odd request upon initial review, it becomes much less so when proper context is applied. By most accounts, Ohtani is something of a recluse, a baseball junkie who lives a spartan lifestyle and is concerned with little outside of that immediate orbit. He’s also only 23 years old, so he lacks a wealth of general life experience. All things considered, it makes a great deal of sense for him to get a primer on all the teams and cities in the league.
But the most important consideration in all of this is the very limited window of time within which Ohtani will have to make his decision once he’s officially posted. Assuming the MLB owners ratify the tentative agreement next Friday, December 1, the Nippon Ham Fighters are expected to post their star player that day or the next. From there, Ohtani will have only 21 days to choose the new team for which he’ll play.
With that in mind, these essays from each team will serve as something of an online dating profile. Ohtani and his camp will have the opportunity to pore over all the details and perhaps set up a pecking order of sorts in advance of that pivotal three-week period. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but I think this affords the Cubs an opportunity to get their proverbial foot in the door.
The front office is incredibly detail-oriented and they’ve already proven themselves adept at selling the organization to free agents. With their state-of-the art facilities in both Chicago — like the new home clubhouse that allowed Kyle Schwarber to rehab his knee injury while remaining with the team — and Mesa, the Cubs have major selling points on the physical development side. And their top-notch mental skills program covers the philosophical aspects of Ohtani’s wish list.
It may not come into play during this initial stage, but I’m sure the talents of Cubs Productions will play a role in wooing the Japanese superstar. There work has been featured in some fantastic hype videos and we heard about how a personalized vid was integral in the courtship of Jon Lester, so it figures the same could help with Ohtani. As our Todd Johnson posited, that could even include pitching the two-way stud on a future that includes Bryce Harper.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider that the video the Cubs made for Lester included a hypothetical lineup with then-Cardinal Jason Heyward in right field.
Where the Cubs would seem to have a disadvantage in relation to teams like the Yankees and Dodgers is the whole cultural assimilation aspect. While Chicago has a vibrant mix of international influences, I’m not sure it can match up with New York or Los Angeles when it comes to Japanese culture. Then again, a man who’s willing to get out of his comfort zone to test himself against his sport’s best might not be looking to cultivate an insular inner circle. Perhaps he’s just looking for the best American experience while also maintaining a little bit of home.
I can’t pretend to know exactly what Ohtani is or isn’t looking for in his new team, but I do know that this whole essay business bodes very well for the Cubs.
Twins targeting pitchers
“I’ve been in contact with Darvish along the way and we’re having active convos with his agent,” Twins GM Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio (tweets from Jim Duquette here and here). “He’s also a priority for us. “We’re having active conversations with each of the agents for Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb, among others including back end of the ‘pen pitchers.”
If you’re wondering about Levine’s use of “also,” it was necessitated by him speaking earlier about the pursuit of Ohtani, whose unique situation makes him a target for pretty much every team in baseball. That knowledge isn’t particularly revelatory, but the forthright mention of so many other big names was a little eye-opening. To this point in the stagnant market, all we’ve really gotten is reported interest and whispered rumors.
By flat-out telling everyone who they’re interested in, Levine throws the Twins into the mix with the Rangers, Brewers, and Orioles when it comes to teams going after the same pitchers the Cubs figure to be in on. The quartet in question here represents the top of the pitching market, which helps to explain the glacial movement we’ve seen thus far. With plenty of competition for their services, these players would be silly to sign this early in the offseason.
Ohtani is such a unique figure here in that he’s a potential impact starter who comes without the big price tag. So a team could realistically add two pitchers for the cost of one, which really shouldn’t affect the pursuit of more traditional free agents. It could, however, help to determine a team’s appetite for a more costly option. If nothing else, executives want to keep as many options open as possible as they look to set their rosters for 2018.
Though not traditionally in the market for big-ticket additions, the Twins find themselves with an excellent opportunity to make things happen in the AL Central. The White Sox and Tigers are rebuilding, the Royals are looking more like the Royals again, and the Indians will have a very difficult time maintaining their recent success. Even if Minnesota isn’t successful in their pursuit of any of those top pitchers, they’ll help to direct the market.
And that means the Cubs may either need to get more aggressive than they’d previously planned or they’ll have to downshift into the lower tiers when it comes to restocking the rotation. We’ll see more here over the next couple weeks, but I’ve got a feeling that the Winter Meetings are going to be insane.