By narrowing his list of suitors from 30 to seven, Shohei Ohtani has offered a glimpse at his decision making.
Geography seems to matter, with five of the seven remaining contenders coming from the West Coast. He doesn’t appear to mind the idea of playing the field, since four of the seven contenders play in the National League. And training in Arizona looks to be preferable for the 23-year-old star, who has eliminated all Grapefruit League teams from consideration.
Here’s a closer look at how he’d impact the roster of each of the seven remaining teams…
Los Angeles Dodgers
If any pitching staff can integrate Ohtani seamlessly, it’s the Dodgers, a team that wins year after year without relying too heavily on any one starting pitcher. Even Clayton Kershaw pitched just 175 innings last year, and nobody else even qualified for the NL ERA title. That could appeal to Ohtani, who pitched once per week in Japan.
On the mound, the combination of Kershaw and Ohtani would be tough to beat, and the presence of the 23-year-old phenom would provide the Dodgers with insurance in case Kershaw leaves as a free agent next off-season or continues experiencing back issues. As for the Dodgers offence, Ohtani would deepen a lineup that already includes Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are still in on both Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, so the potential exists for a complete turnaround following a 98-loss season. San Francisco ranked last in the National League in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS this past season, but Ohtani’s bat would go a long way toward improving the offence (Stanton, of course, would help even more on that front). In the rotation, Madison Bumgarner and Ohtani would look pretty fearsome, too.
San Diego Padres
The Padres keep losing at the MLB level, but they have improved their farm system dramatically in recent years and placed fourth among all organizations in Baseball America’s August ranking.
Even with Ohtani, it’s hard to imagine the Padres contending next year, so signing here would mean playing the long game. But hey, there are worse places to live than San Diego and playing in a small media market on the West Coast might ease his transition to the MLB level. After all, becoming a legitimate two-way threat at the highest level could take time and the Padres can afford ups and downs better than most.
The Cubs are the only remaining contender that doesn’t play for a Western-division team, but they won the World Series just last year, have an enviable collection of young talent and play in one of baseball’s iconic parks.
It’s also worth noting that when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer make a pitch, they go all-out. The Cubs successfully wooed Jon Lester in free agency three years ago, and that wasn’t their first time selling a prominent pitcher on their team. Back in 2003, when Curt Schilling was a member of the Diamondbacks, Epstein and Hoyer joined Schilling at his home on Thanksgiving weekend to negotiate an extension and persuade him to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to Boston.
Now that Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are both free agents, the Cubs badly need starting pitching, and Ohtani would be the ideal fit.
Los Angeles Angels
Thanks to Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons, there are already plenty of reasons to watch the Angels. If Ohtani were to sign in Anaheim, the Angels would be even more intriguing. The presence of Albert Pujols means the Angels couldn’t simply stash Ohtani at DH, but GM Billy Eppler has said that Pujols could play more first base next year. Pujols turns 38 next month and played all of six games at first last year, so I’ll believe it when I see it, but at least the Angels have a DH spot available.
The DH spot gives the Angels more flexibility than NL teams, and they could mix Ohtani in as an outfielder if needed. He hasn’t played much outfield in recent years, but his arm strength (obviously) and running speed are considered well above average.
Like the Angels, the Mariners have an established DH in place, but are saying all the right things about shuffling players to accommodate Ohtani (in this case, that’d mean moving Nelson Cruz to right field as needed, even though Ohtani’s almost certainly a better defensive player than the 37-year-old Cruz). On the pitching side, he’d join a rotation that now features Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Mike Leake.
If Ohtani chose the Mariners, he’d build on a tradition of Japanese-born players starring in Seattle. Over the years, the Mariners have featured Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kenji Johjima and, of course, Ichiro Suzuki.
Seattle can offer Ohtani a bonus of $1,570,500.
The Rangers don’t play on the West Coast, but Yu Darvish played for them for the last six years, an experience that could allow them to handle Ohtani’s transition to the MLB level more capably than most teams. The Rangers need rotation help and have an opening at DH now that Mike Napoli’s a free agent, so from a baseball standpoint he’s an ideal fit for Texas.
Ohtani’s decision won’t be driven purely by money—he could have made far more by waiting two years, and clearly has some geographical preferences. At the same time, it’s worth noting that Texas can offer the largest bonus of any team: $3.535 million.