Saturday, December 02, 2017

Oh Oh Oh Ohtani: His Magic

With the owners approving the new posting system, the race for Shohei Ohtani is on!

Shohei Ohtani (his preferred spelling, not Otani; which should have been obvious:  that's the name on the back of his uni) is a very talented Japanese player - not only a great pitcher in the Japanese League, but also a great hitter there as well, a modern day Babe Ruth.  There is a nice article talking about him on the MLB, highlights:
  • Humble but athletic upbringing:  rural background
  • Koshien arrival:  excelled in key tournament
  • Decision Time:  The Nippon Ham Fighters win his heart with long-term strategy for his MLB dream, as well as supporting his two-way ambitions. 
  • The Two-Way Game:  Precocious pitcher whose stout hitting came to the fore in last couple of seasons.  "Recurring and nagging leg injuries" in 2015 and ankle injury in Feb 2017. 
  • Ohtani Revealed:  "All-around great guy" who is the total package Athlete, with a "A", 6' 4", 215 lbs, who can run 3.80 sec home to first (Dee Gordon average max effort home to first per Statcast is 3.81 sec).  Lives in team dorms so he can get to training facilities quickly, and is diligent about exercise and nutrition.
Only 23 YO, he could wait two years and enter the majors via the usual posting system and he was projected to get a $200M contract had he took that route.  Instead, he wants to be a major leaguer sooner than later, and because of his age, is covered by the international free agency rules instead, which means that teams are limited in the bonus that any team can pay him (Giants are limited to $300K) and could offer him only $545K in his first MLB season.  So, clearly, money is not driving his decision.

Though money will be coming soon enough.  As this Fangraph article analyzed, he is covered by our usual arbitration system, so while he'll get minimal salary for his first three seasons, if he got the highest arbitration awards up to now, he would make $36M over his first six seasons (team's total commitment would then be $56M, as they would have paid a $20M posting fee to the Japanese team.  Looking at a Giants example, Lincecum got $64M (Giants signed him to a contract before meeting with the arbitrator; since he earned two Cy Youngs to get these contracts, call this the true max he might get), and if Ohtani reached that height, $84M team commitment.

In addition, it could be coming even sooner with endorsements.  An article I read noted that endorsements was a specialty of the agent Shohei hired from CAA to represent him.  A Bob Nightengale tweet notes that marketing agents believe Ohtani could be the top endorser in the MLB, making over $20M per year from endorsements.   So Ohtani will not be hurting for money by coming over now, and in fact, might be accelerating it by coming over now.

What is driving his decision is complicated.  Mostly, he wants to play both ways, he wants to hit as well as pitch, which is his more interesting talent (I've read that he can get up to 100 MPH).  Still, he's a top hitter on top of being a top pitcher.  DH has been his main way of being in the lineup (only has 62 games experience in OF and none in the past few years).

He has asked each team to provide him with their plans for how they intend to use him, how they view him as a pitcher and hitter, information on the team's player development, medical capabilities, training facilities, organizational facilities, as well as other factors related to how he would fit into that team and city.

Here is the full list of the seven questions (from this Fangraph article, though this is the original source, and he would like both a Japanese, as well as an English, response):
  • An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter;
  • Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities;
  • Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities;
  • Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation;
  • A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization;
  • Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play;
  • Relevant marketplace characteristics.
In this SI article on him, early this season, it was noted that the Nippon Ham Fighters used a similar method to get him to sign with them back when he was 18 YO and choosing between signing in Japan and signing with a U.S. team.  And the MLB interest was so strong that Japanese teams were not sure that drafting him was wise, as then it would be a wasted pick if he went to the U.S.  The Fighters wrote a "McKinsey-style presentation" with a plan for realizing his dreams, which was to play in the MLB, and convinced him that it was better to start his career in Japan and then move on to the U.S. when he was ready (which is good for Giants fans because he reportedly was close to signing with the Dodgers back then). 

Found a lot of recent info on Ohtani on a site called 2080 Baseball:  Part OnePart Two.   They have written extensively on him:  see all the articles from a search I did.  More than I can get to, I want to publish before he gets posted.  But this is probably the best source materials I can find that discusses in very detailed, scout-language terms, how good a hitter he is, as well as how good a pitcher he is.

Here is another great article:  Ringer provides a great sabermetric viewpoint of the great performances of Ohtani and calls him a "10-tool player", a play on the much coveted 5-tool player that scouts love.  Too much to list, a lot of stats regarding how great he is as a hitter, as well as a pitcher.  It emphasized the point that while he's been great as a pitcher, he has had his struggles with hitting, at least early on.  They referenced this older article from Vice, which mentioned that he almost signed with the Dodgers back when he was 18, before signing with the Nippon Ham Fighters (also has extensive interviews with a former scout, who wrote up scouting reports on Ohtani for 2080 Baseball, which I reference and link to below).

Also, two articles from ESPN:  Revolutionary, which discusses the difficulties of being two-way (good interview with and discussion of Micah Owings, last MLB pitcher/hitter), and a cautionary tale regarding two-way, with a nice discussion about the costs of using him as a hitter, as well as what a team might gain, which oddly ends on a positive note regarding trying, "Uncertainty shouldn't always have to lead to caution."

Also, the MLB released a bunch of articles:
There was an interesting interview with a former MLB player who was a teammate of Ohtani's, plus a note from a scout that he likes pitching more than hitting, as well as this interesting note by one of the authors:
Ohtani is coming now because he wants a transformative challenge -- on his terms. 
This is exactly what I've been thinking.

In addition, the Q/A interview with him was very enlightening, I would recommend reading that.  He noted that the most important factors in deciding which MLB team is:  "The people on the team and in charge of the team is what matters most. I need to have a feeling of wanting to play for them."  That's about as touchy-feely as you can get.  The teams' submissions in answer to his seven questions should be very interesting given this.

ogc thoughts

Obviously, the Giants would be interested in a pitcher like Ohtani, no matter what, but at such a low cost, it's a no brainer for any team.  Him being a hitter makes it all the more interesting.  It is going to be a scrum of teams trying to present their best side to Ohtani and his agent.  I think the Giants have as good a chance as any team, probably better than most, but since we don't know exactly how Ohtani is weighing his decision, it's all obviously guess work.

Some have said that the AL would have the upper hand because of their usage of DH, which is his usual way of being in the lineup.  However, Fangraphs had a great article discussing how that this is not necessarily so, looking at how NL teams might use him, and finding that he could be creating a lot of value even just hitting as a pitcher (Bumgarner was used as an example of what's possible), occasional DH, and regular PH.  Of course, if he's not a saber, he might be looking more at AB/PA, in which case, the NL teams will have a harder time recruiting him.

The article used Clay Davenport's minor league translations (the Nippon Pro Baseball League has been equated to a AAAA level), finding his batting line in 2017 has the MLB equivalent of .306/.367/.512/.879, which is very good for any position on the field.  Clay Davenport's minor league translations for 2016 was similar: .318/.385/.537/.922.

2080 Baseball scouted him and felt that he could be a regular starting right-fielder, in a report that they published.  Also noted that he has hit LHP well (he bats left, throws right), well enough I think to not be a platoon.  It notes his speed, he is a very fast runner and has a great arm (obviously), and hence why he has played in the outfield and not 1B. 

For his pitching stats, Clay Davenport's translations showed the following for 2014-2016:
  • 2014:  ERA 2.99, 2.8 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 2.94 K/BB
  • 2015:  ERA 2.99, 2.4 BB/9, 8.8 K/9, 3.74 K/BB
  • 2016:  ERA 2.86, 2.7 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 3.37 K/BB
All very good, all very Bumgarner-esque.  Madison from 19-23 YO seasons, roughly similar numbers, had 3.08 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 8.3 K/9, 3.64 K/BB.  Add in the hitting, and Ohtani appears to be a slightly better version of Bumgarner, one who can hit as well as hit for power.  And I assume he has to love the way the Giants have used Bumgarner so far in his career, both as a pitcher and hitter.  But, obviously, opportunities to hit will be limited in the NL.

2080 Baseball also did a scouting report on Ohtani as a pitcher (late 2016 season).  They rate him as a #1-2 starter, a top of the rotation pitcher, as he has the potential for four plus pitches.  A double-lus athlete (Giants loves athletes), he's actually still growing into his body and developing his coordination.  Hence, I suppose, why he's rated as a 60 for command, if he continues to develop.  And the Giants love "pound the zone" pitchers.   And, read the Part 1 and Part 2 I had linked to above, good stuff on his offensive and pitching abilities.

AL vs. NL:  Hitter Opportunities

Eno Sarris in an article on the seven questions noted that Ohtani's usage in Japan would be a good guide as to what he's been comfortable with being handled previously.  Eno noted:
In 2016, when he was healthy, he was a designated hitter during the week and started once a weekend. Earlier in his career, he was an outfielder fairly often, but not since 2014. The general flow in 2016 was that he would start Saturday or Sunday, take Monday off, then play in the lineup through Thursday, and then take a couple days off before his start.
Looking over his career numbers, I notice that he did not play every game there is.  He DHed a little more than 50% of the games that were played, as his team would give him 3 days of rest before and after starts.

That would make it a more even competition between AL and NL clubs.  Especially given the issue that AL teams will have to deal with on the day he pitches, for if he DH's that day, when he gets replaced, especially if they bat him high in the lineup, it would burn the DH, then the AL team would need to either bat their relief pitcher or burn another precious bench bat. So some AL teams might not want bat him DH on the days he pitches, which could be an issue for him if the team cannot figure out a way to get him PA's.  I can see an "Ohtani Rule" be put in where the pitcher can be the DH and not have to leave the lineup when he's replaced by a reliever, as there were two other players drafted in this year's draft who are also two-way players; but until then, this will be an issue

In addition, NL teams get 10 games in the AL each season, where they can use the DH, and that adds up to four series (assuming he can DH in at most one game per series, based on the resting protocol above it would mean that he can really only DH/LF once between each start) in the majors, which if he's batting 3/4, means another 13 PA (assuming he can DH in 3 of the 4, for whatever reason) on top of the PA he would get as a starting pitcher (Bumgarner before 2017 averaged 85 PA in the three years as full-time starter; Cueto, not a good hitter, had 84 PA himself in 2016).

He would also get a number of PH opportunities in the NL (which he would also get to do in the AL, but limited by his DH duties, given the rest issue).  Assuming he gets 32 starts, that's 130 other games, then minus the 3 DH starts, that's 127 games.  Assuming 50-75% usage as PH, that's 64-96 PA.  The lower end seems reasonable, the Giants used guys for PH in roughly 50-60 games the past couple of seasons.  That puts him roughly at 175-200 PA in the NL.

In the five seasons of regular play, Ohtani averaged 234 PA per season, which is not that far away from what he would do on NL team. However, last season, being unable to pitch, he did get 231 PA still, and in 2016, got into 382 PA. Have to think that he views more as better, and it appears that his team started to use him with less rest in 2016, in order to boost his PA to almost double what he averaged in his first three seasons. An NL team will probably have to be more creative with him, in order to get him more AB's, occasional starts on the field.

One way would be to sell him on being the team's designated PH when there are runners on.  The Giants have done that unofficially before with Mark Sweeney.  What the Giants need to sell him on is that his ABs will always be in leveraged situations, where it can affect the results of the game, whereas when you are a starter, you could go all game and not get such a situation.  Quality over quantity.  That has to appeal to the hitter in him.  Of course, other teams can offer the same role, but the Giants can point to examples like Sweeney as proof of their willingness to execute and utilize such a strategy, whereas other teams could just be pandering.

Bochy's Giants PH history

Bochy has had specialized PH on the bench before.  As noted, Sweeney in 2007, with 61 PA is the most obvious example, he was signed to be a professional hitter off the bench.  There was also  Gillespie in 2016 with 57 PA, Ishikawa in 2010 with 52 PA, and Tomlinson in 2017 with 50 PA.  So stretching Ohtani to be used more often (up to 64-96 PA) would not require that much more of a push beyond how Bochy used PH previously just to reach the lower end of that range.

In fact, he would feel freer to use Ohtani more frequently, as he had to hold off using position players because he had to weigh that against the potential need for a fielder at some point later in the game.  With Ohtani, he would not have to worry about burning a position player, and could therefore use him more often.  In addition, as a left-handed hitter, generally three-quarters of PA are from RHP, so Bochy could use him in situations where the other team is not likely to bring a loogy in just for Ohtani

Which brought up another question:  how many PH opportunities are there?  Over Bochy's Giants career, the number of PH PA has varied from 218 to 293 (high reached last season;  it appears that the worse the record, the more PH PA, as 3 worse records had 3 highest PH PA, but 4th most was in 2016; still, next most was next worse record in 2013).  So there are clearly a lot of PH opportunities there, with roughly 3/4 RHP (164-220 PA), and thus they could easily use Ohtani in a majority of the RHP PH opportunities and still have plenty left over for others.

And unlike most teams, the Giants have used their pitchers (mainly Cain and Bumgarner, in PH role).  Though admittedly not a lot:  high is probably 4 PH for Bumgarner in 2015, though Bochy also used Cain for 5 PA over 3 seasons (his 25-27 YO seasons).  But the Giants are one of the few teams to utilize, even celebrate, their pitchers hitting, from Don Robinson to Livan Hernandez to Matt Cain to Madison Bumgarner.  Livan got his team of pitchers to play a hitting game based on friendly wagers.  Meulens have been having hitting games by breaking up the team into mini-squads that include pitchers, and include the pitchers in the counting games.

Pitcher Usage

Another commenter brought up a very good point about how MLB teams are using SP for less IP, both per game and per season, which I feel is related to how some teams are sabermetrically run: some teams limit pitchers on the number of times they face the other lineup, as well as limit the number of pitches thrown per game. For example, LAD pulled Hill out of every playoff start at 18-19 batters into the game. Of course, they didn’t do that to Kershaw (Ohtani is good, but not that good yet, though), and given the worry over pitcher abuse, particularly when they are under 25 YO, saber teams would be more likely to limit IP for him.

As a result, saber teams might not appeal as much to Ohtani, first because they will probably limit his IP in his first few seasons, as they ratchet up his usage from NPB to MLB, from 22 starts to 33 starts, roughly, but also because they likely won’t be as aggressive in raising his limits due to his youth.  He averaged roughly 150 IP in the last three full seasons he pitched, and would probably be held back to 175 IP (at 6 IP per start, that's roughly 29 starts, or basically being treated as a true 5th starter, who is used as a reliever in the first month of the season) in his first season before being pushed to 200 IP in his second.  And if at team is very cautious, given that he needs to adjust to the majors and living in the U.S. in his first season, perhaps start him off at 150 IP in his first season (or 25 starts; basically only starts from May to August, relief start and end) then 175 and then 200.

For example, how the Nationals handled Strasburg in 2012 (I think the Mets did something similar with one of their pitchers), limiting his IP, after his TJS, would be a factor in Ohtani's decision making.  However, teams don't have a great idea what Ohtani prefers, a cautious approach like discussed here or a more aggressive one where he's a full-fledged MLB SP, though one can infer that his desire to join the majors now and not wait two years suggest that he don't want to be babied in any way.

Which is probably part of the reason why his list of seven questions included how he would be used, to see how the team would use him, and allow him to question whether the answer of the team aligns with how they acted before in handling players.  I assume he wants teams that are straight dealers with him, because once he signs, the team could renege on their plans and use him in any way they want, so teams will need to rely on showing how their behavior in the past represents how they will treat him in the future.

Again, I think that favors the Giants.  The Giants are a pitching and player oriented team.  Their rep is built on their pitchers during this era, and known to be good at handling their pitchers as humans, and not as robots or backs of baseball cards.  They have developed a good number of successful starting pitchers, Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Bumgarner, along with others like Liriano and Wheeler.  They have allowed Bumgarner to show off his hitting abilities, and have celebrated it.  In addition, it turns out that he remembered the 3 teams showing the greatest interest in him when he was 18 YO:  Rangers, Dodgers, and the Giants.  Players remember stuff like this (like Draymond naming all the teams, in exact order, who drafted players ahead of him).

Ankiel Thinks Ohtani Can Two-Way If He's That Good, But Is He?

Yahoo's Tim Brown took to interviewing MLB personnel, both players and coaches, to get their perspective.  A great perspective has to be from Rick Ankiel, the only player in recent history who can talk knowledgeably as a former starting pitcher as well as starting OF:
“I got the recipe,” he said with a laugh. “This can be done. And, yeah, I’m rooting for it. 
“This guy’s work ethic is through the roof, or more than we do anyway. And he’s just playing baseball. He did it in Japan. He knows how to do it. We’re talking about winning and losing and competing. The guy’s already playing at a high level.” 
He added, “When I was a position player, 100 percent I could have pitched one day a week.” 
In Japan, pitchers generally start once a week, which works out to a couple more days of rest, which would open Ohtani’s schedule some, allow for recovery from his starts and grant extra time for the batting cage and other preparation. 
“Can he be great at both here?” Ankiel posed. “That depends on how good he really is.”
Forgot about the work ethic part of the equation, sounds like Bumgarner's routine, he went overboard in his work when he was coming up through high school and the minors, only to discover that in the MLB, because of all the travel and level of play, he needed to back off his routine, though from what I've read, not by much.

Brown wrote about what MLB personnel thought of playing two-way:
In a sampling of pitching coaches, general managers, scouts and players, the most common opinion was that it would be very difficult to play both ways in today’s game. And, also, that it would be incredibly cool if Ohtani could pull it off. And that they’d like to watch him try. Some believed the injury risk to a high-end pitcher was not worth the risk. Others wondered about the roster makeup, particularly if Ohtani were promised at-bats, only to discover in, say, June the experiment wasn’t working. One idea had Ohtani take regular starts in the rotation for a few weeks with a sprinkling of pinch-hit at-bats, followed by regular innings in the outfield for a few weeks with a sprinkling of relief innings. Another, a big-league pitching coach, said, “The pitching side would be hard enough for him. To be an everyday player on top of that, I just don’t see it happening. Not at an impact level. No chance.” He then softened, perhaps charmed by the notion of such a player: “If he can do it, man, that’d be great. That’s all anybody ever wanted to do.”
Another pitching coach, asked the same questions, said, “Tell me how he recovers from a start.” 
Brown interviewed Chris Archer, a pitcher, who outlined his routine (more of a sidenote, thought it was interesting to see a pitcher describe his routine; would love to see Bumgarner's:
Sunday:  Archer’s typical routine, beginning with, say, 110 pitches on Sunday
Monday: Basically, the day after, he said, “I’m done.” He conditions with a longer run and maybe some core stabilization. “I don’t pick up a baseball,” he said. “My arm is too sore.” He’ll watch video on his last start and begin video preparation for his next start. 
Tuesday: Bullpen day and medium intensity conditioning. Depending on how his pitches feel, how his body feels and if he is chasing something new, the bullpen session could last 15 pitches. It could go 35 or more. He’ll continue his video preparation. 
Wednesday: “This,” he said, “might be the ideal day to play in a game.” The soreness has subsided. He’d undergo massage therapy, then ride a stationary bike or do some pool work. Also, play some light catch. 
Thursday: The end of his recovery. He’ll run 10 or more sprints to excite his system. Play light catch. Ready himself, he said, “To put your body through hell the next night.”
Brown noted this about Ohtani: "Those who know him say he is an earthy sort who works hard and is liked by his teammates."

Speculation in the Japanese Press Favors Giants, But Other NL West More Favored

One of the Fangraph commenters noted a variety of rumors spread in the Japanese media:
1. he needs opportunity to both hit and pitch. some media says ohtani might forgo DHing(position player is out of question). In that scenario, NL might be a better fit. 
2. he does not want to go to a team who has a Japanese pitching star. (source is Nippon Ham Fighters organization insider) 
3. he does not want to go to a team who has a Japanese player, period. 
4. he may be best suited for the Diamondbacks. major factor being family ties. 
5.he may be best suited for the padres. major factor being Nomo and Saito. 
I dont know the truthfulness of all these specualtions and news, some are guesses. But if 2. is true, he is not going to the Dodgers or Yankees, Cubs. It seems NL west and AL west teams are the frontrunners in any case.
The above rumors mostly benefit the Giants.  Given how the Giants have used Bumgarner differently (showing what they would do by example), Ohtani has to be impressed with the Giants.  And they not only have no Japanese pitching star nor Japanese player, they have never really had any Japanese star (though have had Japanese players, from Masanori Murakami - first Japanese major leaguer - to Shinjo to Aoki, among the major highlights; of course, Shinjo and Tanaka could complain about their chances with the team) and on this team, he would be a star but not be under the pressure of being the franchise savior, which some teams would automatically have him in.

Family ties in Arizona and friends in San Diego apparently favors those locales, though one could say that if he was a Giants player, he would get to visit there frequently each season, and the Giants are generally in position to compete for the playoffs given their payroll, unlike Arizona and especially San Diego.  And according to the Wikipedia entry on Asian-American demographics, SF/SJ has roughly 25% Asians, whereas it is in the low teens for NY and LA.   However, Japanese-American concentration is pretty high in the Southern California area, probably higher than the Bay Area.

Also, one could also extend that Japanese star/player avoidance to avoidance of teams with similar players.  Of course, that would be a negative for the Giants in that case because the Giants already have a power hitting good to great starting pitcher in Bumgarner.  Impossible to determine how he feels either way, and this is a rumor, as well, so we'll see.

Giants Competitiveness

Of course, don't know how 3 of 5 affects his view of things here.  He might like it, but he might also want to join a team, like the Indians, who haven't won in a long time but was very close last season (of course, their racist logo might affect his decision as well, we don't know how he feels about such things).  He definitely thinks like a trailblazer, jumping here now instead of waiting two years to get a $200M contract, so teams that can offer him a history of few or no Japanese involvement might have some appeal to him, though one would think Asian-American density would be part of his preference.

But one would think that he would want to be on a team that is likely to be very competitive for the near and intermediate term, only needing him to get over the hump.  In that case, the Giants could appeal to him, as a healthy Bumgarner and Cueto (and hopefully restored Moore) would swing things around a lot for the Giants.

Think of the rotation he would be a part of with the Giants:  Bumgarner, Cueto, Ohtani, Moore, Samardzija.   Together, they could have an overall ERA of 3.40, which could be as good as any rotation the Giants had during 3 of 5.  With a runs allowed of 3.60 (which is roughly what a 3.40 ERA would end up being with unearned runs) and the poor 4.00 runs scored of the past 1.5 seasons, the Giants would have a Pythagorean Win of 89 wins.  So adding Ohtani, and doing nothing to upgrade the offense or defense could put the Giants into Wild Card contention.

Giants Giant Win Swing by Starting Pitchers

And that is quite a swing, as the team did poorly by pitchers did poorly in 2017.  In 2017, Bumgarner, Cueto, and Blach comined for 27-39 team record in their starts.   In 2016, they were 43-23, a 16 win swing, so if you just change 2017 to their 2016 record, the Giants would have been 80-82.  Just that gets us back to basically .500, assuming both can stay healthy and productive in 2018, which seems likely as long as Cueto's blister problems are solved.   However, that assume improved offense, as they were a combined team record 14-14 in the second half of 2016, which is only a 6 game win swing, which only gets us to 70-92.  Presumably the Giants will do something with their offense, and as I noted, when they had Belt and Panik healthy and hitting, they averaged 4.5 runs score per game.

With Cain, Giants were 8-15.  With Stratton, 6-4.  Let's say we get to 12-11 instead with Stratton in place of the Cain starts, for a total of 18-15 vs. 14-19 in 2017.  That gets us to 84-78.

Lastly, we were 10-21 with Moore in 2017.  He was screwed up mechanically for much of the season due to his adding in a cutter, and got himself straightened out by the end of the season.  In spite of the drop in offense in the second half of 2016 that drove the poor record at the end of the season, the Giants were 7-5 in his starts but 15-25 in the other games, showing how good he was for us when he's going right.  Presumably he is back to 2016 mechanical goodness.  If he can reach 16-15 in his starts in 2018, that's six more games gained, which gets us to 90-72.

Of course, if Ohtani were to join the Giants, Stratton would not be in the rotation (unless they propose a 6 man rotation; which would be pointless for any team to do, as that is basically pandering to him, and I get the sense that he wants all the teams to open up their kimonos and show what they got and what they can offer, and just throwing out a six man when you have never done it would seem specious), so we would be looking at how good he could be vs. the combination of Cain/Stratton's 14-19.  One would hope that Ohtani, who has shown roughly 3.00 ERA MLB ability would be able to generate at least an 18-15 record.  The worse pitching record among starters with 3-ish ERA in 2017 had a 13-9 record, so 18-15 seems to be the minimum.

And that don't include whatever Ohtani can add to the offense.  The Fangraph analysis noted that Bumgarner delivered roughly 1.0 WAR and used that as a possibility for Ohtnai to attain if he joined an NL team.  Adding another win would push us to 91-71, along with how much better he would be above 18-15.  If he were to play more games, getting into PH highly leveraged situations (if I were the Giants, this is an area I would emphasize, that he would become our key PH on the team, brought into key runners on base situations late in the game when it could mean the lead or at least getting even), that could add another win since he would double the number of PA he would get just as SP.

Playing Seven Questions

As noted, Ohtani's representative sent every MLB team a seven question questionnaire regarding what the team thinks of him, and how they might be able to support him.  The Athletic's Eno Sarris wrote an interesting article (while subscription is needed normally, this article is gratis, at least at the moment) on how the Giants stack up on the questionnaire.  He feels that the Giants have a number of advantages, overall, but that other teams can match and exceed them:
  • An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter:  Unknown
    • I agree that this is a weeder question and that teams will need to be bringing up his flaws as well as strengths.   
  • Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities:  Advantage
    • Eno analyzed DL trips and the Giants ranked 5th among all teams.  He also wrote an article on health in the MLB using the same data, and the Giants led in lowest days on the DL in the majors.
    • Noted Giants homegrown talent, and "go get the ball" hitting approach.
  • Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities:  Advantage
    • Pitcher's park
    • Great clubhouse with spacious lockers
  • Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation:  Advantage
    • For assimilation on the team, the Giants bullpen catcher is Taira Uematsu, a Japanese native who has carved out a nice career in the MLB, and that Bam Bam Meulens also speaks Japanese, should he not get hired away.
    • Also, SF Japantown
  • A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization:  Disadvantage
    • Notes the issue of where Ohtani would play, that OF, where he hasn't played in years, is where the Giants would/could play him
  • Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play:  Advantage
  • Relevant marketplace characteristics:  Advantage
    • Mentioned Mission Rock development project, which I would place in franchise as a desirable place to play, as that will bring additional monies to the team and allow it to invest more in players and facilities.
  • OVERALL:  Advantage, but other teams more advantaged
I think I can add some facts beyond what Eno noted that could shine a light on better regarding how the Giants answer these questions, plus add in other thoughts that come to mind.
  • An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter: 
    • The Giants have pursued Ohtani significantly for a long time now. Shohei noted in an interview that the 3 teams that showed the greatest interest in him  when he was an 18 YO were the Rangers, Dodgers, and Giants.  While not a full or detailed evaluation, by their efforts in following his career, the Giants showed that they value his skills greatly, and that's part of the equation I'm sure he'll be weighing the answers given him.  
    • Given how well the Giants were able to get Bumgarner and Sanchez fixed (and also, Cain and Lincecum got their skipped starts to right themselves too, early in their careers), I would presume that they noted his issues and that they have ideas on how to fix them (no team should be sharing their remedies because otherwise, if they lose, he fixes his problems with the winning team, but it's hard sometimes to separate the issue from the solution, like throwing across your body, well, you stop, right?).
    • I think that this question is to separate the fawning teams who are jumping into the scrum for Ohtani from the teams who have studied him closely for years.  It furthers separates the ones who have studied him, as he appears to be very humble about the need to still learn more about improving himself, even after doing so great in NPB during his career, and probably knows what he needs to do, but want to see if the team knows.  Better, if the team spots something that he don't know.
    • Also works as research, because this gives him (and his team of advisors) free input on what is wrong with him, and perhaps catch something that he and his advisors have not noticed before.  Plus, some teams might gold the lily here and talk about how to improve him as well, which is hard to separate sometimes, from noting what is wrong.
  • Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities:  
    • Pitching oriented organization, starting with them drafting more pitchers than hitters consistently in every draft, especially weighted when looking at their first round draftees, to how their team is structured.
    • Tidrow, Righetti, Gardner
    • Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, Sanchez, Bumgarner
    • The Giants, over the years, have discussed some of their player development methods publicly, albeit briefly.  A number of years back, their video training system was touted, I recall Brandon Belt being one user (for a success) and a lesser prospect, Nick Noonan (for one who failed).  They also have an advanced defensive analytics team, as they were excited to be one of the first teams to beta the Field/FX system (speaking of which, have you heard what has come of that?).  Anyone knows of others, especially related to pitching?  Don't recall anything.
    • I would also note the Giants flexibility with handling different pitchers with different mechanics.  They allowed Lincecum to continue his mechanics, and, in spite of baseball's insistence that he's a reliever, let him start.  Bumgarner still throws cross-body, which most teams would fix because of the injury risk that motion entails.  
    • For what's it's worth, as well as Meulens speaking Japanese (see above), plus Uematsu as bullpen catcher, there is Alonzo Powell, our new hitting coach, who spent some time in Japan as well.  In fact, in seven seasons there, he won three batting titles.  And I believe he speaks Japanese as well, as one report noted that he still goes back to Japan regularly and give clinics and practice his Nihongo, or Japanese language.  That has to be a plus, though not necessarily an advantage.  Though I would think it should be a huge plus that they are already prepared.  Of course, Dave Roberts is half Japanese and has brushed up on his Japanese while managing Maeda.
  • Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities:  
    • I've heard that the Giants Spring Training facilities are top notch too.
    • Not sure how good Giants Minor League facilities are, as a lot of that is provided by those team owners and/or cities they reside in, and not via Giants investment, from what I've seen.  From what I've heard, San Jose Municipal Stadium's facilities could use a huge modernization upgrade, though the park itself is nice to sit in and view games, but I think Richmond's owners were able to talk the town into building them a new facility (not sure if it is done yet or if it fell through, anyone can share?).
  • Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation:  
    • Lots of Japanese in the SF Bay Area, though not as concentrated, it appears, as some towns in LA area.  
    • The rumor above noted his potential preference for Arizona because of family and San Diego because two former Japanese players that he admires works there.  I would rate this as "nice to have" from his perspective and that it won't affect his decision-making much, because otherwise why make all the teams compete with each other with submitted answers?  He can visit both Arizona and San Diego on road trips if he joins SF or LA, and I would rank the Giants having Japanese speakers as a better "nice to have" to potentially "must have" team quality for Ohtani, since he'll need to converse with on-field coaches regularly, as he learns MLB English.  
  • A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization:  
    • Clearly he'll be co-Ace with Bumgarner and Cueto, but #3 in our rotation.  Bumgarner, Cueto, Ohtani, Moore, Samardzija.  What a rotation this would be!  This has to be a huge selling point to him, being part of such a potentially awesome starting rotation.  I think pitching him a closer or super-utility role will cost the team their opportunity to sign him.
    • He clearly loves hitting, as the Nippon Ham Fighters upped his usage as DH the past two seasons, as once can see by his PA/games average.  The Giants will need a complete plan to play him a lot as a hitter.  Here's what I think is a viable plan:   he will PH anytime RISP and the game is +/- 2 runs, i.e. close;  he will get to rest the leftfielder on the days he can play and not be preparing for pitching; he will, of course, bat when he pitches.   Then as he gets better as a hitter, eventually become the starting LF.  His bat might also play at 1B, so that could be his eventual position down the line.
  • Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play:  
    • I would lead with the ability to meet Willie Mays and Willie McCovey regularly.
    • Giants have spent the money, and are willing to spend the money, to win
    • Pitching to Posey and getting extra strikes
    • He and Bumgarner could compete as SP and as to how many HR they hit as pitchers
    • While he's a Japanese star, he's not expected to carry the load for the team, he's the piece that pushes them back to the top, if not higher than before, with what he can do pitching and with the bat.
    • As Evans (and Sabean) noted, one year does not make a losing organization, as they were in the playoffs just in 2016, but was waylaid by a lot of injuries in 2017.  
    • Got the players to compete now, with key additions/upgrades, especially if can get Otani (and especially if they get Stanton and/or Gordon; have to think Giants have a plan B of trading for Gordon in place, should Stanton falls through for whatever reason).
    • Like some players, he can find a nice, close apartment near ATT and visit the training facilities all the time.  Other teams' training facilities are probably not as convenient to visit, I would think.
    • In fact, he could bond some with Pence, Posey, and Bumgarner.  Pence because he is all about nutrition and exercise.  Posey because he's quiet and humble.  Bumgarner because they are so alike in many ways.
    • He mentioned that he likes big steaks, from his trips to the U.S. before, so the Giants should include information on both Harris' Restaurant (where you can see the aging steaks in their up front refrigerator) and House of Prime Rib, both on Van Ness, nice big steaks there, and House will bring you seconds if you ask for it.  Maybe he and Bumgarner could go together and have an eating contest.
    • I would also mention the temperate weather in SF, which is better than the temperatures for teams in the South, East, North, and Central.  It's no fun playing in extreme heat, and that was one of the selling points the Nippon Ham Fighters noted to Ohtani regarding playing in the MLB minor leagues. 
  • Relevant marketplace characteristics:  
    • Not sure what they are looking for here, other than how large is the metropolitan area, and how good is it for endorsements.  Lots of opportunities for local sport stars, as much as they want when they are a star on the team. 
Money, Money, Money

I find it funny when I see anybody discuss what bonus a team can offer Ohtani.  The max is like $3.5M, which the Yankees and Rangers can offer, and the Giants can only offer $300K.  However, as noted above, he can expect to make $20M+ from endorsements from both sides of the Pacific, dwarfing whatever a team can offer.  The Yankees do have the YES network, which would give them further advantage in endorsements in Japan, however, I can coming to the conclusion that the rumor about him preferring no Japanese stars currently on the team is probably true, though not so sure about there being a Japanese player period.

Japanese Star

OK, I admit this is playing psychologist and I'm not one, but from reading about Ohtani from the U.S. and Japanese press, I get this impression of him as a no-nonsense BASEBALL player.  Though a big star in Japan, he lives in the same cheap dorms as his teammates.  He declines when teammates invites him to go out for drinking (huge in Japan, even more so than U.S.).  He's wanted to be in the MLB since he was a child, single-mindedly focused on that objective, and not just in the MLB, but a star in the MLB.  

I think his view of the MLB shows his ego.  He's also been focused on playing both ways.  So while he's humble in most respects, he thinks enough about himself that he thinks he can not only be a star pitcher in the MLB, but a star hitter as well at age 23, when most players are just happy to reach AA, maybe AAA.  That takes some healthy ego and confidence.

So I believe that while not a deal breaker, I think he does prefer a situation where he's not sharing the Japanese limelight with another Japanese player, and especially star, on the same team.   That's partly ego, but also economics.  It's pretty clear that endorsements is the way he expects to make up for the money he's given up by posting now.  I just read that it was the newest CBA a couple of years ago that forced him in this direction, because back then the old CBA would have allowed him to get the big $100-200M contract at age 23.  So he changed plans, hired an agent who is an expert in getting endorsement deals, and instead takes advantage of the CBA rule instead, because now he can negotiate with every team in baseball and still make big money via endorsements.  

This will hurt teams who for sure have Japanese stars on them already, like the Yankees.  I can see going either way on Maeda on the Dodgers, since he's not that big a star here, but I think the star category extends to Japan, and there, Maeda was a former winner of their version of the Cy Young, and that should be a negative for their bid, though they can try to sell him on being co-Ace with Kershaw.  I'm not sure who else is out there, and perhaps the winning team might try to sign up Yu Darvish, who Ohtani has exercised with and has a relationship with (he stated in his interview it would be great to be with him, great to face him).

Former Gaijin Teammate Thoughts on Ohtani

A former MLB player, Brandon Laird, who played with Ohtani for 3 seasons on the Nippon Ham Fighters, had some comments from the MLB article above about what factors most for Ohtani.  He seems to agree that Ohtani wants to be the Japanese Star on the team he picks.

First, Laird think Ohtani can definitely be a position player.  He thinks Ohtani's athletic abilities will allow him to play any position on the field.  He also noted that "he can run like the wind." 

Second, regarding the conflicting thoughts about Ohtani's feelings about playing on the same team as a another Japanese player, Laird said:
"I feel like he just wants to come and not be compared to other guys who have already been here -- to start fresh on his own, show what he can do by himself.   He's got the ability. He's always shown interest in coming to the States. I think he'll adapt -- not only to the baseball side but to the culture. Living in the United States is what he wants to do."
Very interesting, coming from someone who knew him as a teammate.  This would favor the Giants, if true, over the Dodgers and Yankees, and perhaps even the Rangers and Marines, as they are strongly tied to their prior Japanese Stars.  The Giants have not really had any Japanese stars, Shinjo is the closest they came to one, but really, he was a minor, lower wattage star, and average player, at best.

Final Thoughts on Giants Chances

While the Giants probably have a lot of qualities that Ohtani will appreciate, they are clearly not the front-runners.  If the rumor of lack of Japanese Stars is true (and a recent teammate agrees), then the Giants would have a much better chance, I believe, as that would eliminate teams like the Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, who look to have better overall packages revolving around the seven questions than the Giants but already have Japanese players on their teams.

I would have to say the Dodgers, Rangers, and Mariners are probably the front runners, assuming he's OK with other Japanese players on the team.  Dodgers because they were the ones closest to signing him before.  Rangers because Darvish pitched for them and they have a history of handling other Japanese players.  Mariners because of their long history with Japanese players, starting with Ichiro.

The SI article as well as the first MLB biography are pretty good in presenting the type of person he is.  He's not high maintenance, nor does he seek the night life.  That has to make places like LA and NY less attractive to him personally.  Quieter towns like Seattle, Arlington, and even SF would be more attractive then.

And as much as Texas has taken care of Japanese players, both Seattle and SF have a Japantown, though I have to admit that to call it a town is a bit glorified as the SF Japantown is just a couple of blocks, roughly 2x3 blocks.  Maybe the Giants can get Uematsu to show him around, since he's a  Japan native who has lived in this area now for a long while.  Or better maybe they can room together for a while (though that could be tough unless Ohtani can stay with Uematsu; I can't presume a bachelor would have an extra room for Ohtani, but moving Uematsu out could cost him his home if he moves out, though I suppose he could temporarily live with Ohtani at Shohei's new digs, wherever they may be).

However, he hasn't really stated a preference as to team or usage, other than that he's open to teams' suggestions on how he would be best used in the MLB, but that he wants to both pitch and hit. So maybe he's open to creativity like starting in LF and coming in as a closer, as I've seen some suggest. That would certainly save his arm.  It would be very interesting to see all the teams submitted plans, after he signs. I hope his agent releases them afterward, but I'm guessing that he won't (could be NDA attached as well).

Giants Chances Are Better But Not Best

But I think the Giants have a better chance than most other teams.

His dream was the MLB, but instead of signing with the Dodgers, he went with the Fighters both because it would be more like home as well as he would be treated as a star immediately (vs. minor league drudgery), plus the most important part for him, they would allow him to both pitch, as well as bat regularly.   That would suggest he don't want to feel out of place, and thus favor teams with significant Asian population around.  He comes from a rural area, after all.  And the SF area is a great area for a split between rural and urban, depending on his tastes.

That said, he liked to live in the dorms and focus on improving himself.  The Giants could set him up with an apartment close to AT&T so that he can be close to the facilities, and teammates like Pence and Bumgarner could help him with ideas on nutrition and exercise.  And Bumgarner could speak from a rural viewpoint, living in the urban.

To combine the above two, I think if the Giants can get Uematsu to room with him and basically be his guide for his first year, that would be a great selling point, a native Japanese who knows the area and can get him to Japanese food and things that are familiar and "home" to him.   That would give him a flavor of home while acclimating to MLB life.  It would also help, probably, if Alonzo Powell were to be available, since he lived in Japan but grew up in SF, and also be a resource for the familiar, should Ohtani get homesick.

It has to appeal to him that the Giants have enabled Bumgarner's hitting ambitions.  Especially them allowing him to DH last season.  Could the Giants have been forward thinking enough to do that knowing that Ohtani would be watching?  Would be interesting to know, after he chooses.  But not many teams can point to a clear example of that with their management of players.

And the Giants have shown this willingness to allow different players into their fold, and using players differently.  From Bumgarner's hitting to Bumgarner's and Lincecum's pitching mechanics (they should have Madison on video extolling how he never understood his pitching mechanics until the Giants taught him, then helped him).  Or how about Hunter Pence's nutrition and health practices?  And not much weirder and different than Panda, rotund yet athletic.  There was also Lincecum, double Cy Young Timmeh, being the bridge reliever in the 2012 playoffs, plus Bumgarner in Game 7 of 2014, and all the instances of starters relieving, For The Win.  That has to appeal to him.  So him wanting to be both a hitter and pitcher would fit right in with his competitiveness to want to win.

I think the Giants can also appeal to him with their rotation.  Him in the rotation would bring us back to 3 in 5 caliber rotations, with 3 guys capable of sub-3 ERA's in Ohtani, Bumgarner, Cueto, and two average plus starters in Samardzija and Moore.  With a great rotation like that, good bullpen shaping up, even a 4.0 runs scoring team (as they have been for 1.5 seasons) could win the division (as we did in 2010 and 2012) or win the Wild Card (as we did in 2014, though pitching was already on the decline).

One could argue that he would want to be The Man on his new team, and thus joining a team that already has Posey and Bumgarner would not appeal to him.  But he understands that it's a team sport, and that while his ambitions are to be a major leaguer, he knows that there is more for him to learn.  On top of that, he wants to win, and that will take established players already there, and a winning culture that is current and long-lived.  Except for 2017, for the Giants it has been. 

But while the Giants had the first Japanese player, they have not really had that many since, and none of the hyped Japanese players who have been posted.  Shinjo and Aoki are probably the top players, with Yabu close behind, and they have kicked the tires on a few other lesser players, but no big splash.  Would that appeal to Ohtani?  It goes both ways, he could view it as a positive because then he would become the biggest Japanese star in the history of the Giants (whereas he would be one of many for the Dodgers), but it could be viewed as a negative, as in why haven't the team with the first signed Japanese player not signed more marque players as Dodgers, Yankees, heck, even Boston and Rangers have had many. 

My gut says that would be a positive, Ohtani is dreaming big, wanting to be in the majors as well as two-way, and SF is a big, well known city, and to be the first there has to appeal to some part of him, but my gut also says that his advisors would bring up the negative side, noting all the successes the other teams have had.  Who will hold more sway in the decision making?  Well, that is the whole point of hiring an agent, to get his guidance, and unless he thinks differently too, he could be guiding Ohtani to teams who are more experienced with acclimating Japanese transplants. But I would think that it could appeal to him, being the Giants first big Japanese league free agent signing, and all the attention that garners, whereas joining the Mariners, Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, or Rangers would be, same old, same old. 

Another negative has to be the team's record last season.  Saying things will be better next year with good health won't sell the team.  The big push for Stanton has to be impressive to him, in terms of showing how badly the team wants to win too.  And I think he wants to win, and thus any team that has been losing for a number of years will have a hard time recruiting him.  The Giants, meanwhile, has been mostly good since 2009. 

But still, as the Stanton rumored comment about what's there after Posey and Bumgarner, that's another valid question.  Obviously, the team has to sell Ohtani on being the next Generation of the next Giants Dynasty, he will want to be the Big Man on Campus.   And the young players coming up, Arroyo, Ramos, Slater, Suarez, Reynolds, Duggar, and others.   It would be a hard sell, but the Giants recent history of finding gems int he back of the draft - Wilson, Romo, Crawford, Bell, Duffy - should help sell this story.  Plus, there are still good players like Cueto, Samardzija, Melancon, Belt, Crawford, Panik (or if not him Stanton).  But it has to be viewed as a negative overall, unless the Giants get Stanton.

A Man, A Plan, Ohtani

If I were a bidder, I would think that a team that presents to him a long term plan, like the Nippon Ham Fighters, on how to use him would be viewed most favorable.  Plus, he said in an interview that a major reason was the Fighers being willing to allow him to hit as well as pitch.  Go with what was successful before, right?

From the scouting report on Ohtani, it sounds like he is an incredible athlete who should be able to handle playing LF with no problems, since he has the speed and the arm.  The question is whether his body can take preparing for both playing the field as well as pitching.  However, he has already injured himself running the bases, so maybe his body is not up to the added stresses.  So a good alternative starting position is 1B, though perhaps his bat won't play there.  But these are considerations that need to be thought out and considered.  I think a team should have a plan that covers both what if he is successful, as well as what happens if he is not able.

So, there needs to be a plan that covers short term, intermediate term, and long term.  There also needs to be some sort of agreement of what are signs that it is not working, so that it is clear to both parties when they need to pull on the reins on this experiment 

In the short term, as in now, start out as SP, work out a schedule where he can bat regularly (AL DH really works for that, but being NL top pinch-hitter off the bench should have great appeal because then you get the rush of hitting when RISP with the game on the line;  I would just tell him that he's first up anytime that situation presents itself, though the caveat here is that his platoon splits are not available, so maybe he's only hitting RHP since he bats left).  For NL teams, besides PH, I would allow him to start occasionally in LF and/or 1B (if he practices there first in spring training) plus give him all the DH starts for road games at AL parks.  Those plus hitting as a pitcher would allow him to get around 200 PA, which is a good introduction to MLB hitting, which he will probably need, since it took him a few seasons to figure out NPB pitching.  I don't think that relieving first will appear to him as a transition role to starting, but I think he'll be OK with either being 5th starter and relieving in April before starting (gives him time to acclimate)  or starting from Opening Day, but there will be skipped starts for rest as well as probably a shut down by September, where he becomes a reliever.  In subsequent years, he would pitch the full season, handled like any other SP.

Meanwhile, you hire a team of people who basically will assist him in feeling comfortable and acclimating to the U.S.  Probably have someone who can live with him, native speaker preferably who has lived in and knows the area's best Japanese related places, who can drive him to places he wants to visit, and know where to bring him if he's feeling homesick and want something from home, whether Japanese food or culture.

Another option, which I am not sure if that would insult him, is keeping him in his normal usage pattern, where he pitches every Sunday, then adjust all the other starting pitchers to account for that, with the long reliever pitching in with a spot start when there is not enough rest for the other four starters.  I would think that he would want to be a MLB SP, and not be catered to (or babied) in this way.   The Giants can point to examples in the past in their handling of young pitchers where they would pull them out for a start, to work on mechanics, but in his case, they would pull him out in order to give him rest instead.  I think making special circumstances like keeping him on his NPB schedule would be insulting to him, he wants to be a major leaguer, and he's humble enough to know that he needs to prove himself, but I think he wants to do it as all major leaguers do.

In the intermediate term, still as a SP, he could either become the starting LF or 1B (mutually agree on which is better for him; I would push for 1B, as that is not as hard on his legs, which has been the problem with injuries that he has had, plus involves much less diving and running into walls).  At some point, he'll figure out MLB hitting (hopefully), plus will have a better idea how his body is handling both pitching in the MLB and playing the field some.   Assuming all is fine, he can move into a starting position play, as well as starting pitching, within a few seasons. 

Lastly, at some mutually agreed point (to be discussed each off season), he transitions to reliever (probably closer) who is the starting LF/1B. Kind of like Rick Ankiel's career, except without the being unable to pitch part. Or more like Babe Ruth, except he then pitches relief once he becomes a starting position player.  I've always thought that perhaps Buster Posey could transition to a super-utility guy (he has played all 9 positions in a college game before, and was his team's closer) who could also close for us, when he gets to the end of his career.  I also thought Lincecum could be a super reliever for us.  Maybe Ohtani could be a super-reliever who is also the starting LF/1B. 

Alternatively, I have seen some who plan to start his career as LF/closer, which initially I thought was crazy, because he wants to be a starter, but that would be good for him in adjusting to the MLB.  Earl Weaver did that with his starters, he would put them in the bullpen, put them into situations where they are likely to succeed, as MLB life is tough.  Who knows, maybe he'll enjoy the rush of being the closer.  Then transition to starting in a year or two.  But given that he loves pitching and is better at that, I think any team offering him the closer role would be downgraded in his eyes.  He wants to pitch (as a starter, which isn't explicitly stated, but to me, implied) and then be allowed to figure out his hitting.

I wonder if the Giants brand of loyalty would be a factor.  Culturally, the Japanese are very loyal people.  The Giants are the rare team that generally tries to keep all their star players for a long time, and then celebrate them after their careers are over.  While fans complain about it, it could appeal to Ohtani that the Giants have been generally loyal to their top players during the Sabean era.

That's another thing that was noted in his Q/A, was that there was no advantage to the Rangers, Giants, and Dodgers from their aggressive pursuit of Ohtani when he was out of High School, because he noted that it was because the personnel could be different.  The Dodgers are definitely different, because Colletti was replaced, but not in a good way.  But the Giants have basically the same people that they had then.  Rangers probably the same too, since Daniels is still there.  So I wonder if that will factor in for the two teams since he stated that players and management on the team will matter the most, very touchy-feely factor that could help the two teams' chances of signing him.

A factor that I would point out to Ohtani is the temperate weather that SF has  vs. teams in the South, Central and East.  It is no fun to play on fields like that half the year.   Most players have no choice in that, but he does.   That would favor the teams in the West.

Will be interesting how he'll be used by the team that wins his heart, and there's really no other way to put it because nobody can offer much in terms of money.

But as the song goes, "I left my heart, in San Francisco..."  :^)


  1. I've seen some commentary say that Seattle and the West would be favored for being close to Japan. While that would be nice for him, he's not coming over to be close to Japan, he wants to fulfill his dreams, which involves playing baseball as both a pitcher and hitter in the MLB.

    That's why he declined the Dodger's offer out of high school, which would have been the most direct way to the majors for him, and chose Nippon Ham Fighters instead, not because he was staying home (and being treated way better than he would have been in the minors), but because the Fighters agreed to let him bat as well as pitch, and gave him a plan towards making his dreams come true. I think staying home was a bonus, but his goal was to pitch (which seems to be his best strength, as well as what he likes better) AND to hit in the MLB. The Fighters gave him that opportunity, and as much as the Dodgers, Giants, and Rangers showed interest, none of them, apparently offered to allow him to do that (though that won't count against them, no other MLB team did either).

    If any East Coast team can convince him that their team will help him achieve his dreams better than the submission of the other teams, and win his heart, he will chose them. I think this will trump all other considerations, even the rumored "no Japanese Star" preference.

    I think it's a combination of pitch/bat proposal, plan on how he can work towards improving his pitching and hitting, milestones he would need to reach to show progress towards his goal of pitching and playing a regular position, showing how advanced your training and medical staff is at keeping players healthy, and a good history (demonstrating your expertise) of developing players.

    But all things being equal, that's when other factors will come to the fore, particularly being the big Japanese Star on the team. He wants to put his stamp on MLB history, his stamp on Japanese ballplayer history, and that should give hope to the teams that has not had a big Japanese star in its history, current or past.

    So I think the Giants chances are enhanced by their recent history of letting Bumgarner wear his batting helmet and show off his hitting, their expertise with pitching (which is his best strength, after all; he has been humble in public saying that he knows he needs to learn and improve more to do both in the majors, but seems to understand that pitching is his strength, at least for entry into the majors), their development of Brandon Belt (who was not much of a power hitting prospect when he was drafted), and their lack of current Japanese stars while at least having some history with Japanese players, as well as strong (relatively) local Japanese community, something most MLB teams will not be able to tout.

    1. The more I think about it, the more I think the Giants handling of pitchers will appeal to Ohtani. Whereas most teams have succumbed to the the Baseball Prospectus-ization of baseball, where pitchers are treated with kid gloves by the number, the Giants are one of the few openly old school handlers of pitchers: communication, see how they are feeling, work with them to maximize their health. Instead of saying, "you reach X # of whatever, so you stop" the Giants let the pitcher play, monitoring their health and attitude, and probably, today, using modern Pitch/FX analysis to see if their pitching is declining in spite of what they are saying, in creating a holistic view of the pitcher.

      Thus they should be more willing to let the pitcher pursue his twin goals, have analyzed what he needs to work on to achieve both goals, have a plan in place to help him, have a plan in place to help assimilate/transition him. Plus, they have been looking for flexible players for a long time now, and have shown how willing they are to be flexible, giving Posey ample time at 1B to get his bat into the lineup, which is similar to the situation with Ohtani, only he would be getting his AB in LF. That would cost Span AB's in LF, but I have a feeling the Giants are going to trade him with money to clear a roster spot, if we get Ohtani, and Ohtani will semi-share LF with Pence as he learns to hit in the majors.

      I think it is coming down between the Mariners, Rangers, and Giants. I think Maeda on the Dodgers is why they are not the favorites, and why I think they are ultimately out, given how they used Hill during the playoffs, heck, all their starting pitchers. It has worked out for them so far, but having so many pitchers who could be DLed at any moment, or who all could be healthy, will lead to pitchers being unhappy.

      Mariners because of history, Ichiro, past Japanese ownership, long list of Japanese players, but no well known SP.

      Rangers because his buddy Darvish pitched there, their history of Japanese players, their strong pursuit throughout his career.

      Padres are in, I believe because two Japanese players he admire are execs on the team, and I think he may have done it to give them face, respect. But who knows when they will be competitive again.

      Angels have been chronically under achieving for a long time. They have the best player in baseball with Trout, and nothing. But not any Japanese presence previously, lots of Japanese population there (many towns with 10% Japanese!
      I was surprised!) so he can put his stamp firmly here and there should be enclaves of Japanese culture that he could tap into.

      Cubs, have to think all that young talent that will keep them competitive for years plus their analytics, which Ohtani might want to tap to have a longer career. But not that much Japanese there, though Epstein has a lot of experience with acclimating Japanese players from his time at Boston.

  2. According to Passan, Giants are among finalists, Yankees are out!


      I've compiled names of teams that have been announced as in: Giants, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, Rangers.

      Teams definitely out: D-backs, A's, Thhhe Yankeees, Mets, Brewers, Pirates, Twins, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays, Nationals.

      That's seven teams in, eleven definitely out, leaving 12 more teams to find out about.

    2. Exciting news that Giants are in and will meet with Ohtani this week.

      Almost as exciting that while Dodgers are invited, one tweet noted that they while they probably are in, they are not necessarily seen as the favorites.

    3. Cards, Marlins, and Braves also out.

      Given Rays have only two way player and willingness to allow him, that is not the overwhelming factor in his decision now. It appears that West Coast is the factor, per reports, especially since Padres are included, though A's were dropped already ( knew they would, due to sewage problems at park and unwillingness to spend to win, plus issues winning).

      Forgot to mention that downgrade of Dodgers were foretold in his spring interview where he said that Dodgers, Giants, Rangers strong pursuit previously would not make them favorites because there may have been turnover at the team. They definitely have new crew front office.

    4. Reds and Indians are also out now. From other sources, looks like these seven are the only ones but we'll see. Down to seven left to report on.



      Don't think I've shared this, but this confirms the seven teams noted above, plus Cashman noted Ohtani's preferences for West Coast and smaller markets. That would suggest that Dodgers, Angels, and Cubs are fighting an uphill battle, as they are large markets, SF too, though with the A's in the picture, they have small market characteristics too.

      The batting article below also noted SD hired Ohtani's strength coach to be part of the training staff, as well as two famous Japanese players to be part of their front office. But if they were that strong a pull, then Ohtani would not need to see all these teams. Pluses to be sure, but still a lot of other considerations.

  3. Some more interesting articles.

    This one analyzes how many PA's he can look forward to. Just because AL has DH does not mean the team will DH him, so while he can get a lot of PA there, in the NL, with the PH being used more often, he would have a lot of opportunity to hit as well (basically what I covered above about how he can get PA in NL, but this one also noted downside of AL, if team decides against Ohtani, he gets no PA.

    This one is pre-season article on Ohtani that describes how he is utilized in NPB. Also, his manager talks about his skill set, and he feels that his hitting is ahead of his pitching, as he's still more a thrower than a pitcher, meaning that he has a lot to learn on the pitching side, while he's more a natural hitter. That, to me, is a sign of a Giants advantage, they are known as teachers of pitchers to be pitchers and not throwers. He also noted that Ohtani approaches batters like if he's batting, what would he hate to see.

    Also, if he's ahead on hitting, he might actually be able to pull this off!


      Nice discussion about factors into his play, plus ZIPS projections/translations, which are not as good as the Clay Davenports that I reported above for pitching and hitting.

      Plus he runs down his thoughts on possible matches. Of course, the part about the Yankees is now shown to be too hyped.

    2. Another ESPN column:

      The evaluator believes he has a good feel for the player and explained why he loves his habits and his demeanor. “He’s a good kid,” said the evaluator. “And he’s got a lot of internal confidence. He’s got some good cockiness to him.” In other words: competitive arrogance.

    3. THought I had included this already from Fangraphs:

      Jeff Sullivan thinks the Yankees clues signify more and more either Giants or Mariners, though you can't wrote off any of the other golden ticket teams yet either.

  4. Pavlovic wrote that the Giants are the first known team to meet with Ohtani, in a meeting today with Larry Baer, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans, Jeremy Shelley, Bruce Bochy, and reportedly also Buster Posey.

    Don't know for sure if that is good or bad, but if I were planning the meetings, I would want to meet with the guys I'm more serious/interested about, and then be comparing the other following teams to them. This gives you a general framework to compare and contrast, and assuming you were right, if other teams miss something brought up by your first choice, then you can engage in further discussion with them since you are together. But that's just me, let me know if you disagree.

    It also reported that the Giants proposed in their original presentation that Ohtani be a top of rotation starting pitcher and part-time outfielder, getting 300-400 ABs, and that the extra days off next season would help the Giants facilitate that usage, while still giving him the rest he needs.

    According to what I read elsewhere, the Giants plan on starting him in OF in the days after his start, then 1-2 days before his start, he prepares for it. That's the only way he can get that many AB's, even with getting to bat as a pitcher.

    That's pretty aggressive, but I assume that's what he wants to hear from NL teams, of which 4 of 7 are from, how he can get to be a hitter as well as pitcher. It is similar to how they used Lincecum, most teams would have just threw him into the bullpen, and he might still be pitching if he were, but instead the Giants kept him as a starter and we got a lifetime of highlights and a couple of championships.

  5. Most of the articles I've read speculating on where he goes never touch upon the fact that he wants to be the best that he can be. What can that team do to develop him to be the best pitcher, the best hitter?

    I see SD FO touted because they got the LA guys who pursued him in HS and has two Japanese stars as advisors (albeit just hired) plus the strength guy on the Fighters. And as I captured above, he said in interview that The people on the team is most important and he wants to play for them, so it is a factor, and they got some good pieces.

    But his main goal is being a major leaguer who is good at pitching as well as good at hitting, as well as winning a championship. He wants to maximize his gifts. Can SD show that they can do all of those?

    I think the Giants show off very well here. Particularly their history of developing pitchers, especially Bumgarner, which he knows is his meal ticket that will allow him the opportunity to develop his hitting, which will need work, given how much he strikes out, even in Japan. And there, Belt and Crawford are Exhibits A and B. As well as Meulens, thank goodness he's still with us.

    And while SD has pluses, he seems comfortable with Giants as well, as they are finalists, and the first team that gets to sell him. I think that shows his preference, at least for now. Hopefully they continue to impress him.

  6. John Shea of Chronicle has exciting rumor that it is down to Giants and Cubs (first 5 articles free for month):

    Talks about how self-effacing Ohtani is, and how that aligns with the rumors about not wanting to play for teams either with Japanese players or Stars, not that he has the ego, as I wrote about, but more that he didn't want to step on others, which rings very true with what I've been reading.

    "a prevailing theme in the player’s decision-making process is he’s considering others and not just himself."

    "As part of his seemingly selfless personality, Ohtani prefers to make a decision sooner rather than later - before next week’s winter meetings, if possible - so he wouldn’t hold back a free-agent market..."

  7. Meetings schedule:

    Met with Giants and Dodgers yesterday.

    Met with Cubs, Mariners, Rangers today.

    Will meet with Angels and Padres tomorrow (Thursday 12/5).

    1. Screwed up badly and both ways, tomorrow is Wednesday, 12/6, wow, need more coffee!!!



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