Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Ohtani and the Magnificent 7

In the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, it is down to seven finalists, which was leaked out over the weekend, and confirmed by meetings this week.  The Good (Giants), the Bad (Dodgers and Angels), and the Ugly (Padres, Rangers, Cubs, Mariners) will have met with him by today, Thursday, leaving him roughly two weeks to make his decision, though some reports notes that he might, in deference to other free agents, make his decision before the Winter Meetings begin next week, so as not to impede the market any more (a more agent driven thought is that he would make the decision in order to make a big splash next week; I lean more towards the latter based on what I've read).

ogc thoughts

I thought that this article on Sports on Earth captured each team's best and worse features well, covering how he fits with each team.  It also discussed all the complexity of the available rumors about his preferences, showing how one team or another matches up or violates what the rumors note, like his preference for West Coast and preference for no other Japanese players.   This shows the complexity of human decision making, taking into account different and conflicting needs and wants and coming up with an answer.

Excerpts:
Curiously, other than that cluster of West Coast teams, there is no clear preference in evidence in this collection of finalists. Despite word that Ohtani prefers a smaller market, Los Angeles and Chicago both made the list. Similarly, Kenta Maeda's presence on the Dodgers undermines the rumor that Ohtani doesn't want to go to a team that already has a notable Japanese player. A team's near-term chance of winning also seems to be irrelevant. The Cubs and Dodgers battled in the National League Championship Series in October, but the other five finalists all had losing records this season. The Giants tied for the worst record in baseball in 2017. The Padres have had seven straight losing seasons. The size of his potential bonus also seems irrelevant.  
One thing I find particularly surprising about these seven finalists is that there is no apparent preference for the American or National League.  
This is where things get even more interesting. Although ostensibly a pitcher/outfielder, Ohtani hasn't appeared in the outfield since 2014, and he played just eight games in the pastures that year. One would assume that the 6-foot-4 Ohtani could also get some playing time at first base, given that pitchers are infielders who often have to cover first base. However, that would require learning a new position in addition to attempting to adjust to a new league, at a new level, as both a hitter and pitcher, while also adjusting to a new country with a very different culture and a different language. Given his complete lack of experience in the outfield the last three years, one might be able to say the same about any near-term efforts to play Ohtani there, as well. That still seems like a huge leg up for the three AL teams remaining (Angels, Mariners and Rangers), but Ohtani is clearly open to whatever the four NL teams proposed in terms of his playing time and positional deployment. 
it's also worth considering just what any of them might be able to expect out of Ohtani in terms of playing time on either side of the ball. To begin with, Ohtani has neither played in more than 104 games nor made more than 382 plate appearances in a season. 
On the mound, Ohtani has never made more than 24 starts in a season (his total from 2014), and he hasn't thrown more than 160 2/3 innings (his total from 2015). In 2017, he made just five starts and threw just 25 1/3 innings due to the ankle injury that kept him from participating in the World Baseball Classic in March. He would thus need to be stretched out to shoulder a full MLB starter's workload of 30-plus starts and 200-odd innings, and there is risk there given his history in Japanese youth baseball, including the celebrated but often punishing Summer Koshien high school tournament. Of course, the upside here is that, if a team decides to shut down Ohtani at 180 innings, it can make him a full-time hitter thereafter, rather than lose him entirely.
He also covered each team, which is what I wanted to do, so I'll excerpt each and then add my comments.  I also found an ESPN analysis of the seven teams, not as extensive, which I'll sprinkle in factoids as well into the text.
Chicago Cubs
The Cubs need to add a couple of starting pitchers this offseason and hope that Ohtani can be one of them, but things are awfully crowded on the other side of the ball. Then again, that depth would complement Ohtani's status as a part-time player, and manager Joe Maddon excels at juggling multiposition players. Still, one wonders if landing Ohtani might finally convince the Cubs to deal fellow would-be-DH Kyle Schwarber to an AL team. Doing so could land them the other starter they need.
One of the two non-West Coast club, we find that Ohtani is flexible enough on the West Coast preference, which John Shea's article on why the Giants makes sense noted, which relates to making it easier on his family to come visit him in the United States, to consider the Cubs.  One appeal has to be the youth on the club which is then combined with their World Series Championship in 2016, as well as Maddon's experience with juggling players.

I also wonder if he included the Cubs partly to give face, i.e. respect, to a former US teammate, who told him he should go to the Cubs, soon after the Cubs won the World Series last year, and which has been reported all over.  It reminds me of when I wanted to invite one relative to my wedding banquet, to give her face, but then I had to invite her whole family, which took up a whole table then, just so I could invite that one person.  Face is important to Asians.  But it would be a smaller factor, I admit.

Like I noted, there is a total mix of different and conflicting wants and needs involved, and we have not much idea how he weighs each one, exactly.  But we do know that he wants to be a two-way player in MLB baseball, hitting as well as pitching.  His selling point is that he's likely to be a MLB pitcher, eventually to be a top of rotation guy, which will earn him the opportunity to develop the hitting side.

The main question related to the Cubs is does Ohtani want to be a top dog starting pitcher on the Cubs from the get-go.  They just lost Jake Arrieta, their second best starter in 2017, who also delivered ace results in 2016, and basically is looking for a replacement.  Ohtani has the skill to do that, but they will rely a lot on him to deliver, and won't be able to tolerate any extended struggles he may have, as they only have Lester, Quintana, and Kendricks remaining in the rotation, to lead the rotation in experience, plus Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery, who started some and did well overall in 2017.

So while there are spots open, the Cubs are not going to not pick up other guys to boost their rotation, as they only have Jen-Ho Seng in the upper minors who had an ERA under 4.00, though Zach Hedges did well in AA before being pummeled in AAA.   And with five relatively (Montgomery and Butler has had some MLB success) established MLB starting pitchers, Ohtani will have to beat them all out to make the rotation.

Admittedly, both Butler and Montgomery does not have extensive success in the majors, and Butler's peripherals are fringy at best.  However, Montgomery does have 37 MLB starts at 4.20 ERA, so he's providing good value in the majors, though he's much better as a reliever, so he's very likely to earn a spot in the rotation and at age 28 next season, should be near peak ability, so four spots should be taken.

In addition, they have three proven OF, plus Zobrist slotting in, both at OF and DH, and Ohtani will have to hit from the get-go if he hopes to earn corner OF AB's vs. Schwarber and DH from Zobrist and others he rests.  He's not likely to earn much playing time against Schwarber, except when Schwarber or Zobrist is playing another position, since they plays all over for Maddon.   He could get some AB's in RF, if Maddon shifts Heyward to CF, though.  However, overall, his ability to get to develop his two-way potential will be limited here because there are so many good options here.  Just because Maddon is flexible does not mean that he will use Ohtani when there are better hitting options.

The appeals here have to be Maddon's willingness to be different, the young group of good players who should be World Series competitive for the near and intermediate term, the opening in the pitching rotation.  The negatives is there is significant pitching competition, with the expectation that the Cubs will sign at least one significant SP, making it a scrum between Butler, Montgomery, and Ohtani to win the last SP spot, and the need for Ohtani to be good from the get-go, to make up for loss of Arrieta, and the lack of hitting opportunities if he don't start hitting immediately.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are another team with enough depth to complement Ohtani in the outfield and a manager adept at juggling that deep bench. The Dodgers also have depth in their rotation, but their top arms skew left-handed, so adding Ohtani, who bats left but throws right, could add some balance there, while the overflow could help stock the bullpen, the one place the team lacks depth heading into the offseason. If there's truth behind the rumors, the Dodgers -- a large-market, NL team with a Japanese starter already in the rotation -- are the long shot on this list. Then again, they are the only team that can offer Ohtani a manager who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother, as well as countrymen in the clubhouse in Maeda and massage therapist Yosuke Nakajima.
Much like the Cubs, there is youth and their run of playoffs to reach the World Series last season, as well as Dave Roberts, with a Japanese mother (but who notably said that he would need to brush up on his Japanese with his mother, when Maeda was signed).  But I think that having a Japanese speaker will be a nice to have on the coaching staff, and since Roberts said that he needed to brush up on his Japanese, it won't be like he'll be having conversations with Roberts on the bench, so it would be up to Maeda to provide that in the dugout (I assume the massage therapist won't be in the dugout).

In addition, they were the team that almost signed him before the Fighters beat their offer by giving him the opportunity to hit two-way, which he has said was the factor why he chose them over the Dodgers.  Many accounts note the comforts of playing in Japan versus the minors, being close to home, and the girls, but I view these as secondary and nice to haves but not related to his main goal:  being a two-way major leaguer.  But then, when asked by a reporter in spring training if the three teams that most aggressively recruited him when he was in high school had any advantage, he noted that management could have changed and therefore not necessarily so.  In the Dodgers case, management did change, with some of their key personnel moving on to the Padres, which might be why they were included (Rangers and Giants, the other two teams, appear to have the same general group of management involved).

In addition, the Dodger have transitioned a lot of Japanese pitchers to the majors, though I would note that when I analyzed a number of them, including Nomo, the reason they were successful was because they killed in Dodger Stadium, but was mediocre average on the road.  Hence why they tended to "regress" when they left the Dodgers, their numbers after was very similar to their road numbers when they were with the Dodgers, it is just that their stadium is the extreme pitcher's park that balances out the Rockies extreme hitter's park.   Also, does Ohtani care to just be the next guy in line, as he would on the Dodgers, or to be more significant, as he would with the other teams?  That's a factor no one exactly knows.

Here, the question again is will Ohtani get the opportunity to play if he struggles?  The Dodger famously (or infamously) has an over abundance of SP to pick from, depending on who is not on the DL that week.  That's a lot of competition that has pushed Maeda to a mostly relief role.   As ESPN noted, they don't need him to be a savior, since they have Kershaw, but they do need him to produce quickly, as they don't know who will be available, and yet, if everyone is available, he might have to relieve for a while, or be sent down to the minors to stay sharp.  They can't just guarantee him a position, no matter what, and yet he don't want to be in the majors unless he's earning it.

And it should be noted, the Dodgers have a number of successes developing hitters, but aside from Kershaw, has not developed many SP in the recent past who has been top of rotation guys.   And Ohtani knows two things:  pitching is his major selling point, and second, that he has more to learn to be a major league pitcher, and not just a thrower.   What examples can the Dodgers give as proof that they are premier pitching developers?

And more importantly, where would he get opportunities to play in the field?  They have great young hitters at the corner OF positions, in Taylor and Puig, as well as Bellinger, who has played there as well.  And if they decide to play A-Gon in his last season, that would mean a balancing act between Taylor, Puig, and Bellinger in the corners.  They have a great young core of hitters that is scary good, and thus that would appeal to Ohtani as they will be competitive, but probably too competitive for him to get substantial AB's on the field with the Dodgers.

San Diego Padres

There are those who are optimistic about the Padres' rebuild in the short term. I am not among them, but Ohtani may be. The Padres likely represent the lowest-pressure environment for Ohtani, given the lower expectations for the team and the laid-back atmosphere of San Diego. However, this is the one place that Ohtani would instantly become the biggest star on the team, which could come with pressures of its own, even if they wouldn't compare to those of being the biggest star on the Dodgers or Cubs. There would be no playing time concerns here: Both the rotation and left field are wide-open for Ohtani. Expect the Padres to bring front-office adviser Hideo Nomo to their meeting with Ohtani.
The biggest appeal has to be their West Coast address and lack of internal competition for the positions he would play.  As much as a club may promise to play you both ways, if it isn't working out, he could get benched, at least from the position side of things, or even get sent down to the minors, if neither is working.  The Padres lack of talent could then appeal to Ohtani, as well as the possibility of working his way up with his teammates (lots of young position players) and help win their first World Series Championship.  And no Japanese player to speak of, but probably no experience handling a Japanese ballplayer, that I've heard of, though they do have Nomo and Saito, former Japanese MLB stars, who can share their experiences.

However, I don't get the feeling that he wants to be the star right away for his new team, I feel that would violate his internal moral compass because he will want to have earned that stardom as a great player, not because he's the hot free agent who wants to play two-way baseball who is the best player on his team from the get go.  He has talked about wanting to have a feeling of wanting to play for his fellow players and management, and I don't see this as engendering that feeling, though perhaps this is not that big a deal to him, as long as he can play two-way.  No way to tell how important this might be to him.

In addition, he's as competitive as any baseball player, he wants to win, so the Padres will have to impress him with what their plans are and how they expect to get back to being competitive.  However, the neither have the money nor immediate talent to provide enough assurances that the Padres will be competitive with Ohtani around.  Joining the team, he would pretty much be competitive for the top rotation spot, and both of his competitors there will be 30 YO next season and neither had an ERA under 3.69.  The guys his age are both around 90 ERA+, significantly below average.  Since he's projected as around 3 ERA, he's basically their ace from the get go.

But he has ambitions of greatness, can he attain it here?  Their management being relatively new, they can't really point to many examples of player development that they were responsible for.   They also made what I thought was a bad series of trades, getting Kemp and Myers, trading away Ross and Turner to the Nats, giving up Grandal while eating Kemp's big contract, which does not demonstrate that they have a strong grasp or knowledge of baseball talent.  Ohtani's agents presumably would have noticed that in their investigations into the team prior to all this.  Still, can't be a deal breaker, as they are still among the chose.

That's what I've noticed of teams that are analytically-led, instead of analytically infused baseball talent evaluators:  they don't really know what they have in their hands, they treat players like baseball cards to trade.  Prime example:  Beane trading away Ethier, Cargo, Tyson Ross, Addison Russell.  Sure, he got Donaldson and Cespedes, but you do enough acquisitions, you are bound to find one in the dark.  The ones that matter is just giving away long-term talent for short-term gains.  Sure, teams trade all the time for vets in order to make the playoffs, but teams can't be giving away good talent all the time, just for short-term gains.  Imagine if the Giants had given into that and traded away Cain to boost the end of BBonds, no way we win without Cain.

I wonder strongly if he chose the Padres for the following factors.  One, because two well known Japanese players, Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito, are in their front office as advisors.  That would given them face, by giving them an opportunity to meet with him.  In addition, the Padres has also had a working agreement with the Fighters for their minor league facilities in AZ.  Furthermore, some sources have noted that the Fighter's former strength coach, who worked with Ohtani, is now working for them.

Frankly, Ohtani seems to be his own man, and while these are nice to haves, it does not relate to his laser-focused goal:  two-way major leaguer.  What has the Padres done to demonstrate they understand talent and how to develop it?  Their management's first try at being competitive blew up in their face.   They will need to convince Ohtani that their plan to rebuild is sound, as well the players in their farm system.  And while their two top position prospects did OK in major debut, their pitchers all disappointed, none among ERA leaders.  They NEED pitching beyond just Ohtani, they are desperate for it, I see nobody that really interesting in their upper minors.   That must ot escape Ohtani's agents. 

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels could be a legitimate postseason contender with a full season of Justin Upton in left field and Ohtani contributing on both sides of the ball. The idea of a Mike Trout-Ohtani-Upton right-left-right sequence in the Angels' lineup three out of every five games is an exciting one for more than just Angels fans. Signing Ohtani would mean benching Albert Pujols twice a week, but the time for that appears to have come (far better that than making the 38-year-old Pujols play the field).
Again, West Coast, especially strong Japanese presence in the LA area, I think particularly in their area, if I recall the numbers right, strong need for him as pitcher and hitter.  Again, he would be forcing out other veteran players to get his opportunity to hit.  Pujols has been the primary DH and hasn't played much at 1B in recent years (just 7 last season) and reportedly, they would have to trade an OF in order to open up space for him there.  But there's no Japanese player here either, so that is not a concern.

The Angels really need him to be an ace, they have about as bad a rotation as the Padres, which is not a good thing overall.  Of course, that means he's probably got a great opportunity to make the team, though, as noted above, he might not get a lot of playing time, though the corner OF positions are not that great a competition for him, Revere and Colhoun, both are not that great, though Colhoun is at least providing average WAR, whereas Revere is so bad defensively that he's basically replacement level.  But they have not made the playoffs in 4 of the past 5 seasons, and adding Ohtani, assuming he's a 3 WAR upgrade on someone (not a given) would only move their Pythagorean to 84 Wins.

And that is the rub for Ohtani, as I go through these teams, the ying-yang of opportunity/competitiveness that has to be balanced.  The Padres, Angels, and Mariners (as we'll see) have a lot of opportunities available, especially in their rotation, and thus he has a very low bar to making the team as a starting pitcher, but that's a problem for him if he wants to be competitive with his new team, they will have to show a plan as to how he's only part of the solution, not the whole solution, because anyone can see that they need a lot more help beyond Ohtani.  The Angels had arguably the best player in baseball in Trout, and while that would be great, how would that help him as a pitcher?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners can offer the second-largest bonus and are believed to be the current favorite to land Ohtani, but being the favorite prior to Sunday didn't do the Yankees much good. The truth is, we have no idea what to expect. The Mariners have a long successful history with Japanese players, dating back to closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, the 2000 AL Rookie of the Year, highlighted by Ichiro Suzuki's 12 years with the team, and continuing with lefty Hisashi Iwakuma, who was re-signed to a Minor League deal last week. They also have a Japanese trainer in Yoshihiro Nakazawa. Adding Ohtani would force Nelson Cruz into an outfield corner or onto the bench twice a week, but that seems a small price to pay for what Ohtani can offer. Also worth noting, the Mariners have the longest active playoff drought in baseball and are one of just two Major League teams (and the only one of Ohtani's finalists) never to make the World Series. If Ohtani can help snap either drought, he'll be a legend in Seattle, which has the largest Japanese population, by percentage, of the seven cities on this list, just edging out San Francisco.
I have to wonder about teams where the existing DH would be forced out due to Ohtani's addition.  That would not have to sit well with Ohtani.  They do have a history with Japanese stars, and Ichiro was a hero of Ohtani's from what I've read.  But does he want Ichiro's shadow covering him?

They also haven't made the playoffs since 2001, the longest drought in baseball, and Nelson Cruz, the DH he would force into the OF, is their best hitter at age 37 next season.  Though, however, nobody has noted that neither of their corner OF are established, though their RF, Haniger, had a 3.0 bWAR season in only 96 games played, so perhaps Ohtani can win time in their LF, as last year's LF only had 1.0 bWAR playing mostly the full season.

Of course, their long history of having a Japanese player on their roster since 1998 is on the record, as well as their former Japanese owner, as well as strong Japanese local presence are nice to haves that has to appeal to Ohtani, but again, how do they help his goals?  Other than King Felix, they do not have much success with developing starting pitchers.  And they had a poor year with starting pitchers last season, even Felix had a subpar ERA, and are in great need of an ace SP.  On top of that, among the pitchers who had the most starts for them in 2017, the youngest will be in their 28 YO season, and Felix Hernandez will be 32 YO following up a poor season.

Does Ohtani want the pressure of needing to be the savior for this franchise?  Will he feel like they have the experience to assist him with his goals?  They certainly have the opportunity, because they don't have much of anything in the rotation, and they are from a small market, which the Yankees famously noted was a criteria noted to them, but which I wonder if they misinterpreted and that its more than they/he wanted a smaller market than the Yankees, since the Dodgers and Cubs are still in the thick of things.   And small market don't have the money to spend on improving their team.   Plus, small market could have also meant that small market for Japanese players, meaning teams where having a Japanese player would not mean 24/7 media pressure.

I believe they were included to give them face because of their historic significance to Japanese players moving over here, and the ownership history.  They do not really have the players to be competitive soon, nor do they have a history of developing young pitchers, which is his main goal as a major leaguer, becoming a good starting pitcher.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been actively stocking their pitching staff this offseason, signing righty Doug Fister to a two-year deal last week and adding lefty Mike Minor with an eye toward returning him to the rotation, on Monday. The Rangers will also give Matt Bush a chance to transition to the rotation and thus could offer Ohtani a six-man rotation situation that would keep his pitching workload more in line with what he's accustomed to. That would also give him more opportunity to appear at DH or in the field between rotation turns, and there's plenty of room in the Texas lineup for him with Mike Napoli now a free agent. The Rangers don't have any notable native Japanese players, coaches or executives. However, they did employ Yu Darvish for the last six seasons, so they do have some experience and success in supporting an NPB import and his transition to the Majors and the U.S., and it may not be insignificant that Darvish, who also played for the Fighters, was Ohtani's idol growing up. If I had to guess, I'd put the Rangers right there with the Mariners and Giants as the leaders in this competition.
The only other non-West Coast team, I would have to think the possibility of a six-man rotation, as well as their experience with Darvish, who he is friends with, and surely would have given him a detailed report on how good or bad his Rangers experience was, and it was good enough to earn them a golden ticket to the Ohtani sweepstakes.  Darvish had a successful transition to the majors with the Rangers help, which has to be a significant factor.

In addition, it could not have hurt that the Rangers have been in on Ohtani since High School, as the three teams who were most aggressive back then - Dodgers, Giants, Rangers - were among the finalists.  Their management is probably still roughly the same since Daniels is still around.  They also have two holes in their rotation (they did trade away Darvish to LAD last season) and OF/DH holes (more OF than DH, Choo did OK there), so there is some need/opportunity there.

The main questions here are, does he want to have to follow Darvish, and the heightened expectations that would engender, as well as dealing with the heat of Texas in the summer, and moreover, their competitiveness.  I get the feeling from the rumors I've heard, he wants to be his own man with the team he chooses, and he don't want to step on other Japanese players.  Does that extend to former players for that team?  Not sure.  Heat does not appeal to us in America, let alone people from Japan, where there is more temperate and colder weather conditions.  But who knows, maybe he feels he's up to that challenge.  The Rangers, same as Mariners and Angels, are all likely to not to win the division as long as the Astros are in the division, who has a young core and is off their World Series Championship.  They finished 7, 7, and 5 games back, respectively, in the Wild Card, and Ohtani would not make up that difference.

I think they were included to acknowledge their aggressiveness in pursuing him all these years, as well as their nice handling of Darvish.  And he probably had some good words about them.  Also, they have been competitive until 2017, and like the Giants, mostly competitive since 2009 and having an aging core who are approaching their final few years of competitiveness without rejuventation.  Obviously, Ohtani would be a great help for that.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants had their meeting with Ohtani on Monday, sending a large contingent including CEO Larry Baer, president of baseball operations Brian Sabean, general manager Bobby Evans, assistant GM Jeremy Shelley, manager Bruce Bochy and catcher Buster Posey to Los Angeles to meet with Ohtani and his agents. Bochy has said that he would like to give Ohtani starts in an outfield corner (the Giants have a big hole in left right now) to try to get him close to 400 at-bats. As bad as the Giants were this past season, they could sell Ohtani on a strong rebound based on their recent glory, even-year magic, concurrent pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton (which wouldn't block Ohtani in the outfield given Hunter Pence's decline) and deep rotation. The Giants also have a Japanese-born bullpen catcher in Taira Uematsu, and bench coach Hensley Meulens, who played three seasons in NPB, speaks Japanese.
As I referenced above, John Shea wrote an article on how the Giants make sense for Ohtani.  Which I found ironic, because of the the local reporters, he was the only writer to continually note Bochy's initially poor reaction to Ohtani, and the only writer to not present Bochy's gushing review of Ohtani after the Dodger's game.  So this article was quite the pleasant surprise to these aging eyes.
According to a person familiar with Ohtani’s thinking, the one-of-a-kind pitcher/hitter is trying to be respectful and courteous with his decision-making process, trying to avoid a stepping-on-toes approach to negotiations. 
He has a few preferences. For example, he prefers to join a team without other Japanese players if only to avoid taking attention from his countrymen. 
Check. 
He prefers to join a team that hasn’t had a Japanese superstar in its past if only to avoid comparisons. 
Check. 
He prefers to play on the West Coast if only to make it easier on his family flying from Japan. 
Check. 
These are preferences, not requirements. Though there are more examples of how the Giants meet the criteria — in fact, the person aware of Ohtani’s thinking said he heard the Giants and (surprisingly) the Cubs could be his final two choices — a prevailing theme in the player’s decision-making process is he’s considering others and not just himself.

Unlike the Mariners (who had Ichiro Suzuki), Dodgers (Hideo Nomo) and Rangers (Yu Darvish), the Giants have had no elite players from Japan.

Ohtani wants to grow with his new team and make sure it’s patient with his commitment to be a two-way player, which was another reason to rule out the Yankees, whose championship-or-bust mentality fuels the pressures of playing in the Bronx. The Giants have suggested they’d be creative and accommodating with Ohtani. 
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

Ohtani hasn’t played the outfield since 2014, serving as a designated hitter on days he didn’t pitch, but he is extremely fast and should be able to patrol the outfield without a hitch. He has played mostly right and some left, and the Giants would adjust to welcome him at either corner.
He is one of a number of reporters who have quoted unnamed sources that Ohtani might select the Giants.  I've also seen two former Fighter's Gaijin teammates interviews, one who told him to go to the Cubs, the other (Antony Bass) who guessed that "LAD, SD, and SEA might be the top three."  So the speculation is all over the place.

Shea also got some good quotes from Evans regarding the meeting:
“We scouted him back when he was 18 years old,” Evans said of the celebrated pitcher/hitter. “He was drafted, signed and developed as a player. He’s become a man, a very impressive young man with a great presence. 
“He was impressed by Buster’s great aura, and he and Boch had good, light-hearted exchanges. He’s clearly very thoughtful and taking this process very seriously and stepping up to make a big decision at a very young age.” 
The “great aura” line was delivered through Ohtani’s interpreter. 
“Just Buster’s presence,” explained Evans, “the fact Ohtani saw him play on TV and in the World Series, and there he is getting a chance to meet him. It was a very humble statement to make, but this kid is very humble and thoughtful.” 
Generally speaking, Evans envisions Ohtani initially being used as he was in Japan, where he made one start a week. That would require some adjusting by other starters, but the Giants are willing to make it work. 
Ohtani hasn’t played the outfield since 2014, serving mostly as a designated hitter, but Evans sees him getting time in the outfield and called him “very athletic with good foot speed.” 
After playing mostly right and a little left in Japan, Ohtani could also be viewed as a center fielder. “Some scouts see him being able to play all three very capably. It’s a matter of what’s best for him.”
Shea captures a lot of qualities that Ohtani would view positively, but does not address his goal of being a two-way.  The Giants is one of the few teams that don't require Ohtani to the ace immediately nor need him to be an ace to be competitive nor require moving people (that they were going to move anyway) in order to play him in the field.

In the starting rotation, he's at best #3 but he can be slotted as #5 easily with Samardzija and Moore in the rotation too.  Most of the rest need him to provide ace performances in order to be competitive, though the Dodgers probably can afford to not need that, but in their case, they have so many SP options that Ohtani could get pushed out, which would be a big hit as that is his main baseball skill.  On the Giants, he's competing with Blach and Stratton, two serviceable starters, but not a very high bar for him to beat either, as both has shown their bad as well as their good sides.  He should beat them out, and if not, he should understand being in the minors, and if he can't beat them, the other teams are probably sending him down as well, except for the Padres.  Also, most likely, the Giants in this case would then carry him as the long reliever, so that he can be used as a PH or even starting LF, if his hitting skills is ahead of his pitching skills.

In the outfield, even if the Giant do end up with Stanton, Pence was already slotted to share time with Span in LF, and if they get Ohtani and Stanton, the Giants has already said that they are willing to have Span in CF, with Duggar as backup, given the boost to offense the two should provide, and having Pence share time in LF with Ohtani.  And if they don't get Stanton, they are still looking to upgrade CF, and Span and Pence would share LF/RF starts with Ohtani, assuming he earns ABs there, and even if he don't, he'll still get ABs as a starting pitcher (hence why 4 of the 7 finalists are from the NL, I believe he and his advisors are worried enough about whether his hitting will translate, to the majors that they are willing to hedge by selecting an NL team, which would be forced to use him as a hitter.

Thoughts on Where Ohtani Goes

No team other than the Giants has that blend and balance of fitting him in their rotation and lineup, without upsetting other players, nor being the star player from the beginning, nor any Japanese player to step on or over.

The Cubs, Angels, Rangers, and Mariners all need him to deliver as a starting pitcher to win, and thus feel the need to ship him to the minors, while the Dodgers might rotate him out.  Only the Padres look like they can keep him in the rotation no matter what.  On the Giants, he would slot in behind established aces Bumgarner and Cueto, along with Samardzija and Moore, needing only to beat out Blach and Stratton, who, while they have performed well in the majors, are no sure things to continue.   The Giants generally do not send back their top prospects, once they make the decision to bring him up, feeling that they will learn best in the majors, facing major league pitching and getting major league coaching.  Sabean said after Crawford's send down that it was a mistake that they learned from.

However, the Rangers also has an advantage because they are proposing to run a 6-man rotation which will provide Ohtani a usage schedule that is closer to what he is used to in the NPB.   And that will be a significant factor, but will it outweigh the negatives I listed above for the Rangers?  Their farm system is almost as barren as the Giants, with only Leody Tavaras as the commonly acknowledged good prospect in the pre-season.  Like the Giants, their farm system has been hampered by the long stretch of playoff contention.

While the Angels, Padres, Rangers, and Mariners have corner OF spots too, the Cubs and Dodgers do not.   Maddon may be flexible, but they want to win, and if the other guys are hitting, Ohtani is not going to get a lot of starts with them, pitching or hitting, if he struggles at any point.  Similarly with the Dodgers.   And neither team will tolerate low pitching performance, as they have alternatives, as well as the pressure to win.

Meanwhile, the Padres and Mariners have a nice Japanese connection, as well as a lot of playing opportunities, but both teams are not viewed yet as competitive, and thus it would take a leap of faith on the part of Ohtani to select either of these two teams.   Which he could, if sold on their plans for the future.  But this is a long term decision for Ohtani, and neither team has the money along with the farm system to realistically say that they will certainly be competitors in the future.  It is more a hope of development.  It will take quite the sell job.

The Angels and Rangers have been competitive, and are close, but both are hampered by their winning ways, all have minimal prospects in the Top 100, none in the Top 40, pre-season, much like the Giants were.  The Giants do have Ramos probably in there somewhere if he's not traded to the Marlins for Stanton (I do not expect that to happen, but it could;  however, Alcantara leads the Cards offer, which the Marlins apparently prefer, and he didn't do that well in 2017, nor was he highly ranked pre-season, so I would be disappointed if the Giants gave up Ramos, while Shaw and Arroyo are more in that ballpark).   Both need pitching with a capital "P" though, so the pressure will be on him to deliver.  However, like the Giants, he only need to beat their #5 and in the Ranger's case, they are planning on 6-man rotation, so beat out 6th.

Whereas with the Giants, he just needs to contribute as a 5th starter, with hopes of developing into an ace at some point, and when he does, the Giants can be competitive with Dodgers for division title.  But meanwhile, should be good enough to win a wild card spot with a high 80's win total.  Of course, that takes some leap of faith that Cueto's injury is past him and that he would return to prior goodness without those issues and that Moore can deliver a full season of average pitching, and that Melancon and Smith returns from their injuries back to norms.  And, of course, adding Stanton would help immensely too, but right now, can't rely on it.

The Cubs and Dodgers have the worse opportunity for Ohtani to pursue pitching and hitting.  Neither team have openings in the field for him to play even semi-regularly.  He will have to earn it with good hitting, else could see almost no opportunity for starts, aside from injuries, which one cannot rely on.  On top of that, both teams need a strong #2 starter, while also having a lot of seasoned options for #5 starter, so there is the possibility that he will get sent down to the minors if their current team is hitting and pitching to abilities. 

He probably does not have to worry about that with any of the five other teams, as they all have enough holes in their starting rotation to keep him there, no problem.

So, I see the Rangers as the Giants biggest competitor in the race for Ohtani, assuming the touchy-feely stuff that has been covered are roughly the same among all the teams, as hey all have some level of Japanese demographics that he can appeal to, and some level of working with Japanese players before, and some level of Japanese speakers in their organization (though I would say the Giants lead with two, Meulens and Powell, plus Uematsu who is the bullpen catcher he will throw to when warming up).  Both have opportunities in the field and rotation, both have been competitive in recent history enough to think they will be in the future with reinforcements like Ohtani.

The Rangers are offering a 6-man rotation and that is something that has to be very tempting to Ohtani.  What happens if it fails?  If the 6-man fails, that means the team is struggling too, and the question then becomes whether they will send Ohtani down so that they can save on his service time and not Super-Two.  I think the Rangers are like most teams and will manipulate service time. 

The Giants have not played around with that, it has kept prospects up even if struggling, to get them into major league playable, and will keep them up as long as they are not struggling too badly.  Once they commit, the prospect usually gets at least half a season to figure things out, as long as they are progressing over time.  So that has to be weighed in by Ohtani and his agents too.

Like the Rangers, the Giants is changing things up for him, and have offered to allow him to pitch once a week, to keep him on the same schedule as when he was in Japan, while playing him in between, and making all the other starting pitchers adjust.  Since the Giants lean towards more rest than less, presumably if there is a rest issue for any starter, they will lean toward more rest than less, and insert the long reliever for a spot start. 

Apparently this was not as insulting as I thought it might be.  I assume other teams are offering something similar, then, and thus a 6-man or one start a week are not that unique for any team, but any team not proposing it are going to be viewed as a lesser choice, and if all of the are offering changes, then it is not a huge factor in the decision.  Leaving opportunity to start as well as getting opportunities to bat as the biggest criteria, along with development, is the way I see it.

Unfortunately, Reading the Tea Leaves

But we don't know how the other factors weigh in for Ohtani.  If it is comfort in the transition, as some has suggested, the Mariners, Dodgers, and Rangers are probably best for that, though the Padres with Nomo and Saito would have pretty good guidance on what to do.   Cubs, Angels and Giants don't really have a lot of experience (though a number of Japanese players like Shinjo, Yabu, Tanaka), though Cubs had Fukudome (don't know how he felt about them though).

Maybe the common link here is that with these teams, his being on the team, while it would boost media attention, it won't be super overbearing, as it would have been in NY, for example, except for maybe the Cubs, where the fans are pretty hyper.  I'm not sure Pence could not scooter through the streets of Chicago and head to Wrigley without being bothered constantly.  I don't know if it's safe enough in LA, with the crazy driving I've seen while heading to my daughter's college.  But the rest have good fan bases that is not hyper, like a lot of teams in the East.

Clearly, being on the West is important enough to Ohtani, but not important enough to cross off the Cubs and Rangers, but enough to cross off all the other Central teams (including Rockies who are in West but really more Central).   Clearly he's interested in the Cubs and how Maddon uses players intermixed a lot and the Ranger's 6-man rotation idea (and it must have helped that Darvish chose them as well).

Japanese personnel may or may not be an issue.  Apparently Maeda is not a big enough Japanese star to dissuade him from the Dodgers yet, but perhaps it is significant enough that Ohtani needs to talk with them and hear more about how he'll be used.  And perhaps he likes how the Dodgers use their pitchers, and want to be part of that experiment and experience, maybe he's not worried about being a good pitcher in the majors and can accept going down to the minors if he don't measure up, as they have good pitchers that don't pitch full seasons.  You will need to buy into that process.

One Key Fact:  His Goal is to be a Two-Way Player

But remember this key fact:  Ohtani said in an interview that he basically was going to go to LA and play in their minor league systems, and work his way up, until the Fighters appealed to his desire for two-way play and offered to prepare him to reach the majors, helping him along the way, and won't stand in his way when he's ready to leave.

Others have mentioned the comforts of home and such, as the Fighters also pitched that, but he said in the interview that Two-Way is why he chose the Fighters.  And given that he chose to live in the dorms and avoided the night-life, so that he could focus on development and improvement, that also shows how important this goal is to him, as well as his progress as a player.  Lastly, he's basically giving up a sure $200M by waiting two years because he has basically mastered the NPB, he pitches great there as well as hit well there, and the only way he would improve is by moving now and jumping in. 

So, to me, the winning team will have to convince him, roughly in this order, that:
  1. They can finish off his development into a top of rotation starting pitcher, which is his preferred position and his best baseball talent (100+ MPH says it all).  His Fighters manager said that he's actually a natural hitter, that he's still a thrower and not a pitcher, so the team he chooses should be adept at developing pitchers out of throwers.
  2. They can finish off his development as a hitter.  This is his ultimate goal, after developing himself into a top of rotation starter.  This is basically what happened for him in the NPB, he established himself as a starting pitcher first, then worked on his hitting.
  3. They can tolerate his not pitching great off the bat, so that he can stay in the majors.  No matter what country you come from, traveling in the minors is no fun, and it is generally either hotter than hell or colder than hell, with poor fields conditions often, and weird park configurations that will skew your performance data, unless your team is analytically adept enough to standard performances to account for that.
  4. They can tolerate his not hitting right off the bat, and still give him AB's to develop.  
I know that the Giants have a history of providing all of the above.  Bumgarner is a great example for both, and Belt is a great example for hitting, given how public the Giants were about the changes they were recommending for him. 

I don't know the other teams enough to say that they definitely don't provide this, but I don't see a lot of examples on the rosters of the other six teams that they can point to as examples of how they develop top line pitchers as well as top line hitters, at least from their current roster.  I see a lot of their top players being guys they picked up from other teams in trade, so did they develop them or did they benefit from others?  Or just one example (Felix) so did they just get lucky that one time.  Top pitchers were especially lacking.  The Giants even said, right after drafting Bumgarner, that they expect him to reach the majors in two years, out of high school, and he did, showing their abilities to identify talent.

Demonstrated ability to develop has to be key, though.  He lost a lot of money coming out now, and I assume he hopes to become a good, if not great, major league player in order to make up for that with a big contract later, and thus development will be very important to him, so the team that he chooses will have to have demonstrated successes in developing top line pitchers as well as good  hitters. 

Obviously, playing Ohtani in the field will be an experiment - heck, the Giants are talking about CF for him - as well as having him starting pitching.  That's a given.  I think a team that can outline all the various scenarios that might happen (if his hitting fails, if his pitching fails, with parameters on what failure means) will also score points with him and his team of advisors as well. 

And I think he believes in his abilities enough that playing in the OF is doable in his mind, else he would not have bothered to include 4 NL teams in his list.  Why he hasn't played the OF for a number of years now, I'm not certain, but perhaps that was a team decision and not his decision, but he wasn't going to make waves about it publicly, which is certainly an Asian trait.  And given his injury history, that's where the questionnaire came in, when they asked about a team's training facilities and abilities.

With his meetings presumably done by now, it is a waiting game for him to decide on which team he wants.  The faster the announcement, the more likely that the winning team really impressed him with what they had to offer, and how they are going to use him. 

Go Giants!

Sidenote:  with the Giants expecting Stanton to decide by the end of the week too, this is probably the most momentous week in San Francisco Giants history, just in terms of what might happen, up there with Barry Bonds signing.  It could be gut-wrenchingly bad if we lose out on both, pretty good if we get Stanton, great if we get Ohtani, and Ohstantly great if both agree to join the Giants.  Who knows, perhaps one or the other is waiting to see what the other does, and tip the scales one way or another.

For viewing pleasure, here's another analysis of Ohtani, by MLB's Statcast guy, Mike Petriello, who is pretty good besides the fact that he's a Dodger's fan.   As we all already know, Ohtani's arm and bat are elite, but now there are some Statcast data to back that all up.  He's goooood!

7 comments:

  1. I just posted this on BP, captures succinctly what I think is his objectives:

    I’ve also noticed that much of what’s been written has focused almost solely on personal tastes. However, after reading umpteen articles on him, I’ve noticed that nobody has really focused on his goals.

    Which he made very clear in his interview with MLB.com. When asked why he chose Fighters over Dodgers out of high school, he said it was because they allowed him to be a two-way player. I’m sure home comforts helped, but really his goal is to be a two-way player in the MLB, and it is the team that makes the most persuasive argument that they are the best team for that will win him.

    And it should not be a matter of just giving him the opportunity. I’ll bet all the teams prostrated themselves about how they will use him two way.

    If it were me, I would ask the teams for examples of how they have developed top line pitchers and how they have developed good hitters, as well as their philosophies for development. For it is not enough to get the opportunity, as he views himself as unfinished, which he’s said in interviews. His manager also said that his hitting is actually ahead because his swing is natural, and he’s still more of a thrower than a Pitcher with a capital P. However most view his pitching as more sure, because 100 MPH, and that he might not pan out as hitter, hence why 4 of his 7 are NL clubs with no DH.

    Because nobody knows if he’ll be good in the MLB or how long he’ll last. Good prospects fail all the time, but not so frequently that you’ll pass up a chance at Ohtani. Still, he is conscious that success is not guaranteed.

    So I would imagine that he is thinking seriously about how each team would help him towards his goal of two-way playing in the MLB, and of each abilities to develop both pitching and hitting, though I would imagine that he would weigh pitching development over hitting, given his manager’s comments.

    Well, succinct for me 😃

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  2. He chose the Angels, so perhaps the media rumors that he had mostly made up his mind was true.

    I posted this in The Athletics in Baggerly’s report:

    That was disappointing but in retrospect, not too surprising. LA has the largest concentration of Japanese Americans, especially Irvine, if memory serves, by a long shot, plus no significant Japanese player in their history that I can recall, not even a Shinjo, which is a low bar. Add huge LA media market where one can see huge ads with Ryu, the Dodgers Korean star, plastered on the side of huge buildings, showing the strong endorsement opportunities there, it aligns with a lot that was said about his key decision factors.

    And players developed include pitchers as well as hitters, Trout numero uno there natch.

    I guess he’s happy enough that the Angels can continue his development as a pitcher and hitter, plus can deliver the acclimation he needs.

    We’ll see if the Angels can get over the hump now with him and win. Still, haven’t made playoffs in 3 seasons, even with Trout, and once in 8th and a situation where he is going in as the ace, does not scare him of his chances of winning.

    Good luck, do us Asians proud, except against the Giants.

    ReplyDelete
  3. With Stanton officially off the boards, looks like the Giants are going to be moving on to plans LMNOP now.

    I'll try to post something this weekend, but I've already stated most of my thoughts regarding the state of the Giants in my PQS and season ending presser posts. I'll be mostly recapping those, probably will post links to them in the post, so I don't repeat everything.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And here we are, bridesmaid again. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I feel your pain, this one really hurt. Would have been huge upgrade for the rotation - very important - plus power off the bench, and cheap to boot.

      Angels luck out twice, first with Trout and now with Ohtani, if they can't figure out how to get into the playoffs with those two (been struggling even with Trout), they should fire the whole GM suite as well as the manager.

      Of course, big part of their issue is no pitching. Ohtani, even as unproven AAAA+ prospect, is probably the ace of their rotation already. I guess his cahones are bigger than he let on in his interviews, unless the Angels are going after big fish in starting pitching.

      Now that it can be seen with rearview mirror, the choice of the Angels make sense. I was amazed that there were so many Japanese in the LA area, particularly in Irvine, which is right next to Angel's home. And there are a lot of endorsement opportunities down there. It's an AL team, and he hasn't played OF for years now, presumably with his blessing, and I was blinded by the fact that he included 4 NL teams. And the Angels don't have much historic significance with Japanese transplant players. And reportedly pursued him all along, much like other teams.

      Plus, he's more confident about his abilities to thrive in the MLB than was let on. His manager might have some doubts about his pitching, but he don't feel the need for additional teaching, so it will be interesting to see if anything his manager said holds up, one would think he would not openly say what he said unless that's his professional opinion. That he's a thrower and not a pitcher yet. As the Angels don't have a lot of history of top line starting pitchers, other than Lackey and maybe Weaver (some consider him top, but I never viewed him as a top SP, though looking over his numbers now, I can see the case being made for that).

      Delete

    2. I think his choices for the other 6 teams can be illuminated by his wanting to show respect ("face"), though not completely.

      Mariners for their history with Japanese players, Japanese owner, and Ichiro, whom Ohtani admires.

      Padres for their front office with Saito and Nomo, plus connection with Fighters. I think their GM was also connected with pursuit of Ohtani when he was in high school while with another team's front office (I think they have LA's guys and Preller maybe was Rangers?).

      Rangers for their aggressive pursuit of Ohtani in high school, and history with Darvish and other Japanese transplants (I think they signed Nomo at some point, maybe others).

      Dodgers for their aggressive pursuit of Ohtaini and long history of Japanese signings.

      Giants for their aggressive pursuit of Ohtani and their historic first Japanese player signed.

      I'm not so sure about the Cubs, however. Perhaps because Epstein has long pursued him.

      Now why not the Yankees? Maybe because they don't need respect, or that he didn't feel the need to give them respect? Maybe the need to signal that West Coast was more important than showing respect? Only he knows, obviously.

      Delete
    3. Ironically, we were in the running for both players, Trout and Ohtani.

      Trout was mentioned as a possibility for the Giants when Wheeler was selected. Imagine if he have had him for the past seven years! Would not have needed to trade for Beltran, could just bring up Trout, probably would have shut up all the people who still say the Giants were lucky, no need for Span or Stanton.

      However, might have reduced need for Pence, who I credit for 2012, so who knows, maybe 2012 and 2014 don't happen with Trout. That's the thing with changing time, you don't know all the consequences.

      Delete

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