Japanese star Shohei Ohtani has put the ball in the court of MLB clubs, as The Associated Press reports that this offseason’s most intriguing potential free agent requested written explanations from each of the 30 teams explaining why they would be a good fit for his services.
Ohtani, 23, requested explanations in English and Japanese, if possible, through his agent Nez Balelo. Ohtani is asking teams to identify his strengths and weaknesses as both a pitcher and a hitter, as well as descriptions of many factors including teams’ player development and medical training systems, their facilities at the Major and Minor League levels and why their organization would be one that would make Ohtani feel comfortable.
Ohtani’s memo, distributed on Friday through the Commissioner’s Office, is the latest step in what has already been a unique free agency case. All 30 MLB teams will hold a formal vote on Friday to decide on a new posting system between the league and Nippon Professional Baseball. If the system is approved, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters could post Ohtani for bidding as early as Friday night.
The new posting agreement would net the Fighters roughly $20 million, but Ohtani is expected to earn less because teams can only sign him to a Minor League contract using money from their international signing bonus pool. That’s created a competition for Ohtani that could come down to more than simply who offers the most dollars, as the real payday for the talented pitcher and designated hitter could be several years down the road. The Rangers and Yankees can technically offer Ohtani the most international bonus money, at about $3.5 million each, followed by the Twins (roughly $3.1 million) and Pirates ($2.3 million).
A much bigger factor could be the way teams plan to utilize Ohtani, who pairs a triple-digit fastball with an elite breaking ball on the mound, while also possessing the capability to hit tape-measure home runs at the plate. Ohtani offers an incredible amount of value as a player who can pitch and hit with Major League ability, and he’s expressed the desire to do both when he arrives in the United States. That could give an advantage to American League clubs that could start Ohtani on the mound one day and then slot him into the designated hitter spot during the rest of the week.
The Mariners could be another fit for Ohtani, as general manager Jerry Dipoto stated in a podcast released on Wednesday that his club will do everything possible to sign Ohtani. Seattle would be willing to play Nelson Cruz in the outfield several times a week to open the DH spot for Ohtani.
“We’re not going to leave a stone unturned in the efforts to do it again if the opportunity arises,” Dipoto said. “We’ll be responsible in how we do it, but we understand this is a one-time buying opportunity and you have to be prepared.”
Ohtani won the Pacific League MVP Award in 2016. He is 42-15 all-time as a pitcher in NPB play, with 624 strikeouts in 543 innings. Ohtani also owns a .286 career batting average with 48 home runs and 166 RBIs.