For the most part, as far as available players care, teams are separated from one another by money, and by available playing time. Available players tend to chase the most money, and/or the opportunities that will allow them to most often see the field. This is part of what’s made the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes so perplexing. Every team in baseball could give him playing time, and he’s given no indication that he cares about money. I mean, he can’t not care about money at all, but it doesn’t seem to be a motivating factor. He’s a baseball player. A great one! If he’s good enough, there’ll be plenty of money there in the end.
So it’s been unclear what, exactly, Ohtani wants. I don’t just mean for us, in public. Even within the industry — the very industry Ohtani’s attempting to join — some people have had to throw up their hands. The entire process has been so shrouded in mystery. Even when Ohtani’s representation recently sent out that questionnaire, teams didn’t know quite how to fill it out. Teams haven’t known how Ohtani is leaning. Teams haven’t known how best to make their cases.
At last, this is all gaining some clarity. As of Sunday, we all know more than we used to. Ohtani’s final decision will necessarily be made within just the next few weeks. And it would appear he’d like to play out west.
Sunday’s first news was the big news: Ohtani’s camp told the Yankees they wouldn’t be signing him. Many had picked the Yankees as the favorites, given the quality of the team and the size of the market, but it turns out that second part isn’t actually a plus, in this instance.
Cashman said that Ohtani’s reps told him they were very impressed with team’s presentation, but no matter how good it was, the Yankees couldn’t make themselves West Coast or a smaller market.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) December 3, 2017
After news came out about the Yankees, the same news came out about the Red Sox. Ohtani’s been narrowing down his field of teams, and other teams reportedly out include the Twins and the A’s. According to Ken Rosenthal, there’s a strong sense Ohtani ends up on the west coast, and Mike Berardino lent some support, while adding that the Cubs could be an exception. Jeff Passan noted that the Giants and the Mariners are among the Ohtani finalists. Even as I write this, more is coming in; the Pirates are out of the mix, and so are the Mets, Brewers, and Diamondbacks.
This will only continue to evolve, and for the time being, we don’t know if Ohtani wants an actual small market, or just a market smaller than New York. We also don’t know exactly how badly he’d prefer to play on the west coast, so any guesses would amount to speculation, but this does seem to be pointing more and more to the Giants or Mariners. The greater Los Angeles market is gigantic. The Padres are supposed to be getting better, but they’re still in the middle of a rebuild. The Giants made the playoffs as recently as last season, while the Mariners have hung around on the fringes of relevance. The Mariners also have the obvious recent history of folding in and leaning on Japanese talent.
But that doesn’t mean the Padres can be excluded. It doesn’t mean the Dodgers or Angels can be excluded. The Cubs seemingly can’t be excluded, and we know the Rangers have been pursuing Ohtani for a long time. Ohtani has whittled the list of candidates, but we probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. We still have only a little more information than we used to, with regard to what Ohtani wants. He might not mind playing for a last-place team. He might, alternatively, mind that quite a lot. He might strongly prefer to end up in the American League. He might be okay with what a National League team would have to offer.
The biggest specific development is that Ohtani isn’t going to the Yankees. The biggest general development is that Ohtani is wasting little time in moving ahead to his decision day. This might not drag out beyond the next week, during which Ohtani will be meeting with the finalists. Even if we don’t have an answer by the weekend, the answer shouldn’t come too far after that. Ohtani is beginning to reveal his preferences, and the teams still in the mix all want him badly. If this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a big-league organization, it’s at least once-in-a-generation. When Ohtani makes his choice, the league is going to change as a consequence.
If Ohtani goes to the Giants, maybe that increases the pressure on the Dodgers to go get Giancarlo Stanton. Or, maybe the Giants get Ohtani and Stanton, both, with Ohtani allowing them to potentially avoid an upcoming cliff. All of a sudden, the Giants would look like contenders again. If Ohtani goes to the Mariners, he could help them avoid an upcoming cliff of their own. He could almost singlehandedly make up for what’s long been a disappointing player-development system. Really, Ohtani would make a huge difference anywhere. He could push the Padres’ window forward a season or two. He could give the Angels a No. 1 starter to pair with Mike Trout. He could make the Dodgers almost invincible. He could make the *Cubs* almost invincible. As soon as Ohtani signs with someone, he’s going to be one of the five or ten most valuable players in the game, in terms of performance and salary, if not in terms of performance alone. This isn’t quite like an ordinary citizen landing a winning Powerball ticket, but it’s a little something like an ordinary citizen winning The Amazing Race.
Every single baseball team has its strengths and weaknesses. Every single baseball team has a plan for becoming and remaining competitive. There is nothing in the game more valuable than a young and cost-controlled star-level player. Shohei Ohtani is one of those, and, in the best-case scenario, you could say he’s almost two of those, if he can keep hitting as well as he has. Of course Ohtani is a risk, and of course he could disappoint or get injured. Bryce Harper could disappoint. Luis Severino could get injured. Within the next few weeks, an unprecedented blessing is going to fall into some organization’s lap. We still don’t know which it’s going to be, but we’re starting to figure it out. Baseball isn’t going to be the same, on the other side. For a handful of reasons.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.