The Shohei Ohtani Hot Stove League has taken a new twist as reports indicate he has narrowed his list of teams to seven: the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Padres, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs. Those seven teams have been invited to meet with Ohtani and his representatives starting this week, with Ohtani’s final decision due by Dec. 21.
Let’s make the case for each of the seven finalists to ink the two-way Japanese superstar. We’d try to pick favorites, but just a couple of days ago the Yankees would have been at the top of that list, so we’ll pass on that for now.
Chicago Cubs:Like the Dodgers, they’re limited to $300,000 in bonus money, but they can offer Ohtani a first-rate, winning franchise that needs only an ace starting pitcher to go alongside all the young position player talent. Don’t underestimate the ability of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to lure in the guy they want, similar to when they signed Jon Lester as a free agent before the 2015 season. And no manager is willing to move players around like Joe Maddon, so Ohtani could play some right field against right-handed pitchers with Jason Heyward shifting over to center.
Los Angeles Angels: Come play with Mike Trout! All the advantages of playing on the West Coast and in Los Angeles, but with the DH option that may make it easier to employ him as a two-way player than it would be for the Dodgers. A big roadblock to that idea, however, is Albert Pujols, but Pujols is reportedly working to lose some weight this offseason so he can hopefully play more first base (he played just six games there in 2017). The other option would be to trade Kole Calhoun to clear more room in the outfield for Ohtani to play there when he doesn’t pitch.
Los Angeles Dodgers: If culture is an important consideration for Ohtani, the Dodgers play in the city with the largest Japanese-American community in the mainland U.S. The Dodgers have successfully employed several Japanese pitchers in their history. The weather is nice, Dodger Stadium is a pitchers’ park, and Los Angeles probably presents more marketing opportunities than the other finalists. Their biggest sell over the other West Coast teams, however: Come play for a winner. The Mariners, Giants, Angels and Padres all finished under .500 in 2017. He can sign with the Dodgers and doesn’t have to be the savior, knowing he’s the No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw.
San Diego Padres: If Ohtani wants to play on the West Coast and in a smaller media market — as the Yankees’ Brian Cashman sensed when he said the Yankees weren’t on Ohtani’s list — then maybe San Diego jumps to the top of the list. The weather is great and the ballpark is top of the line. The Padres also have nothing to lose in trying Ohtani in the outfield; outside of Manuel Margot, their outfield is hardly set in stone.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants have the whole West Coast advantage, a beautiful ballpark and considering they had the worst outfield production in the majors in 2017, they’re the rare National League team that could use him in the outfield on a regular basis. A recent article in a Japanese newspaper reported that Ohtani preferred to play on a team without another Japanese pitcher. If true, that could give them an edge over the Dodgers, who have Kenta Maeda on their roster. Plus, he could have some fun having batting practice home run contests with Madison Bumgarner.
Seattle Mariners: In a recent interview, general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Mariners have spent the past year preparing their presentation to Ohtani. According to reports, they’re ready to unleash the full-court press, asking current players if they’re available to meet with Ohtani this week in Los Angeles. Dipoto is also the one general manager who has publicly announced the team would be willing to let Ohtani DH between starts, with Nelson Cruz sliding to the outfield (plus, Cruz is a free agent after 2018). The Mariners have had at least one Japanese player on the roster since 1998, so can sell Ohtani on their history with Japanese players while also playing in a less intrusive media market.
Texas Rangers: They don’t play on the West Coast, but the Rangers have some other positives, including their history with Yu Darvish. Of the seven finalists, they have the most bonus money to spend at $3.535 million and Ohtani has said the Rangers, Dodgers and Giants were the three teams that showed the most interest in him when he was an 18-year-old coming out of high school. They’re desperate for rotation help and have enough roster flexibility to give Ohtani some DH at-bats.
By David Schoenfield