Hot Stove: Where should Shohei Ohtani sign?

First off, let me apologize for the break in posting. I’ve been recovering from watching the Dodgers (my second-favorite team behind THE Baltimore Orioles) lose the World Series. But, life goes on and at least I can take solace in the fact that the Houston Astros are a likable team with amazing players.

Now with that out of the way…Let’s discuss where the Babe Ruth of Japan should sign. If you’ve been living under a rock, or been too busy trying to figure out where Giancarlo Stanton is going to be traded, here’s a brief overview of just who Shohei Ohtani is.

Ohtani is a one-of-a-kind free agent. He’s a 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder who refuses to choose one in the MLB. He’s rated as a potential Cy Young-caliber ace (think Zach Greinke, Carlos Carrasco, or Chris Archer) and a good, potential all-star outfielder (think Christian Yelich, George Springer, or Michael Conforto, depending on how you rate his defense) On top of that, he has repeatedly shown he doesn’t care about money by coming to the MLB early and turning down millions of dollars more. SH2He also has said he prefers a small market team. He also doesn’t care about contending right away (looking at you, Padres). He then basically made every team audition for his services. He’s narrowed his list to seven teams: The Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Angels, Rangers, and Cubs. Here’s a breakdown of how much each team can offer him:

Mariners: $3.557 million

Rangers: $3.535 million

Angels: $2.315 million

All the rest: $300,000

So, who should he pick?

Well, it’s complicated. He wants to play the outfield, but any AL team is almost certain to DH him. If he goes to the NL teams might be more eager to only let him pitch if his pitching is demonstrably better than his hitting. If I were his advisor (if you’re reading this Shohei, I am open to that role) I’d strongly recommend he go to the AL. With all that in mind, I think we can safely eliminate three teams: The Dodgers, Cubs, and Giants. Here’s why:

Dodgers: They’re too good. They have no need to be patient for him. They’ve already had Japanese stars (something Ohtani said he would prefer to avoid). Again, NL.

Cubs: Not a pitcher’s park. They’re clearly contending right now. Not on the west coast. Again, NL.

Giants: The Giants are a bad team masquerading as a good team, so he doesn’t have to worry about contending as much. But, they already have a power-hitting pitcher and if you’re noticing a theme, they’re in the NL.

You might have noticed I didn’t include any reasoning about money. I honestly don’t think he cares, which is refreshing.

That leaves the Mariners, Rangers, Angels, and Padres. Now we’re getting into where I think he fits best and where he would enjoy the most. Which means we can eliminateSH4 two more teams based on fit: The Mariners and Rangers. Here’s why:

Mariners: Ichiro. He would automatically be put in the spotlight. Ichiro. They’re outfield could get a little cramped and Nelson Cruz is going to hog the DH. Did I mention Ichiro? If he says he doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of another Japanese player, why follow arguably the greatest one ever? And they have the most money, so he’ll probably say no just for that reason.

Rangers: Hitter’s ballpark. On the verge of a complete rebuild, which I think is a turn-off for Ohtani. My guess is he’d prefer one of the in between teams. Beltre eventually hog up DH at-bats. 100-degree summers could really be a challenge when you’re doing something as taxing as Ohtani is hoping to do.

So that leaves the Angels and the Padres (what are they still doing here?). Here’s why he SHOULD pick either of our two remaining suitors:

Padres: They’re in the NL so they’d have to play him in the outfield too. They’re in the process of rebuilding, so no pressure. It’s on the west coast in one of the most, if not the most, pitcher-friendly venues in the MLB. One thing people aren’t talking about: The Padres already tried this. The Padres tried this last year with Christian Bethancourt. The Pads tried him out at pitcher, catcher, and outfielder. And while it didn’t work, he wasn’t Ohtani. He was average at all those positions (at best) and as we all know; a Jack of all trades is a master of none. I think this is having a bigger impact than people think. The Padres are a serious dark horse, but I don’t think they’re the right choice.

That means we have a winner! THE Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (aka the Orange County Angels) are the right choice for the following reasons:

The Angels are in a giant market, so he’ll make up for that salary he gave up in endorsements. He won’t have to be the star because Mike Trout is a thing. Albert Pujols is slimming down so he can play more than six games at first base so Ohtani can DH. But there’s no way Pujols plays 162 games at first base so he’ll get the chance to play a few games in the outfield. The Angels have a clear need for both pitching and a strong left-handed bat. The Halos are a legitimate contender, but they’re nowhere near World Series-or-bust. The team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels checks the most boxes.

Ohtani promises to be one of the most exciting storylines of 2018. I believe in his hitting a little bit more than most people, but I also don’t think he’ll put up the power numbers people expect of him. I’d give it a 50/50 chance he’s strictly a pitcher by 2022.SH1 He’s also just 23 years old, so I think people need to be patient. This year he could pitch like Alex Cobb and hit like Kole Calhoun (both solid, but not necessarily special players) but people would still consider it a disappointment. My final comparisons I expect of him in his prime: Eddie Rosario’s 2017 numbers and Jake Arrieta or Gerrit Cole.

Either way, this ought to be good.

I'm a passionate baseball fan based in Portland, Oregon. I have experience in sports marketing for both teams and sports companies. Along with baseball, I'm passionate about statistics, marketing, entrepreneurship, and any other sport. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @PeteySotos.

3 thoughts on “Hot Stove: Where should Shohei Ohtani sign?

  1. I like your reasoning and methodology. Here’s some critiques:

    Cashman’s quote about ‘small market’ and ‘West Coast’ would *seem* to shove the Angels down the list. LA is a HUGE media market, with *perhaps* the most aggressive paparazzi in the known universe. Ohtani lives in the team dorm and is said not to crave the spotlight.

    The ‘no former Japanese star’ idea seems to be unsubstantiated. Have seen a lot of people call that particular point into question. If it’s legit, then yeah, Seattle pretty much CAN’T be his destination. If not, it’s hard to remove the Mariners from contention. They’ve got such a long history of Japanese players coming over and performing (Ichiro, Johjima, Sasaki, Iwakuma) that, for someone who openly declared cultural/regional acclimation to be a key point, Seattle has a lot to offer.

    All that said, San Diego *does* seem like the ultimate ‘dark horse’ candidate here. If I’m placing a bet with even odds, I’d say the M’s are where he ends up. But San Diego can’t be far behind. They’ve loaded their FO with people specifically to make themselves more attractive to Ohtani, and I think they’ve been courting him since he was a teen. So my PNW-colored glasses might be making me put Seattle #1 and SD #2, in which case I’d flip their order.

    Good article 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Totally agree with the questions about the validity of the “previous Japanese star” concerns because that could be speculation from GMs trying to make sense of an oddball free agent—which would completely change things. In which case I think you’re absolutely right the Mariners HAVE to be considered the favorites.

      I would argue that due to the Angels always playing second fiddle to the dodgers in that market and the superstar that is Mike Trout, the market size of LA/Anaheim is somewhat negated and creates something resembling a happy medium.

      Appreciate the feedback!👍🏻

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh sure, there’s no question that the Angels’ situation lowers them a full notch–maybe two!–from the cross-town Dodgers in terms of market size. And having Trout, if Ohtani is uncomfortable shouldering the Face of the Franchise label for whatever reason(s), would be the ultimate shield against unwanted media attention.

        Not that Ohtani’s going to be able to avoid media interaction, obviously, but Trout is EASILY the best player in the game–and if he continues like this for another decade, he’s in the running for Greatest Of All Time with guys like Ruth, Bonds, and other baseball titans.


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