Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani has made a decision, but not the decision. After asking all 30 Major League Baseball teams to fill out a questionnaire, the 23-year-old two-way player has narrowed down his list to just seven finalists.
The seven teams set to meet with Ohtani are (drum roll, please): The Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
That’s … not the list many expected when Ohtani first asked clubs to make their pitch to him. Many figured the New York Yankees would be in the running for the best free-agent on the market, but that’s not the case.
The truth is, Ohtani and his representatives have been exceptionally quiet about their preferences. No one really knows what he wants. And since money isn’t a huge issue, he truly considered every single team in the league. If you weren’t willing to believe that at first, his list of finalists should have swayed you.
We have to admit some of those teams really threw us for a loop. So much so that we’re going to rank the seven finalists for Shohei Ohtani based on shock factor. We’ll also try to throw in some analysis where we can.
We’ll start from most surprising team down to the least surprising team, which means you know we’re starting with the …
1. SAN DIEGO PADRES
Everyone who expected the Padres to be on Ohtani’s final list can exit this article now, because it’s clear you have inside information.
OK, now that all the liars are gone, we can act dumbfounded for a minute. The Padres? Really? The team that won 71 games last year is the running for Ohtani? Could the casual baseball fan name two players on the Padres right now? We’re not sure.
And yet, the more you think about it, the more you find yourself getting comfortable with Ohtani in San Diego. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports laid out that exact argument, and it’s pretty compelling.
The Padres tried the two-way player experiment last year with Christian Bethancourt. It was mostly a failure, but shows their willingness to give Ohtani a legitimate shot at playing both ways. While the major-league team isn’t strong, the farm system looks promising.
Manager Andy Green seems to be well-liked by the organization and general manager A.J. Preller just got an extension, so the foundation of the next great Padres team could already be in place.
Ohtani not only helps the team get there, but immediately becomes the star leading that movement. Not only that, but he gives casual fans a reason to try and watch the Padres next season. He’s a great fit for any team, but he might help the Padres more than most.
2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Angels are always an afterthought. Maybe it’s because the Dodgers have been better lately. Maybe it’s because the Angels are mired in a postseason slump. Maybe it’s because we’re all frustrated they can’t seem to win with Mike Trout.
Ohtani might fix that problem. If he’s as good as everyone expects, he would give the Angels two legitimate superstars. While Albert Pujols is a shell of his former self, he still somehow finds ways to contribute.
And we’re not really talking about Ohtani as a hitter here. His main draw is on the mound, and the Angels are more desperate for help there. It’s easy to forget, but the Angels were in the thick of the wild card hunt most of the year. Ohtani could make them a playoff contender immediately.
3. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
If not for a terrible 2017, we wouldn’t be as surprised that the Giants were in the running for Ohtani. But this past season really exposed some of San Francisco’s major flaws. While Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey are sure bets to produce, Jeff Samardzija, Marc Melancon and Brandon Crawford all turned in disappointing performances.
That puts San Francisco in a really strange place right now. It seems like the team only has two directions, and both are extreme. Either all their stars bounce back and the Giants return to relevance in 2018, or they experience more of the same and start to look like a team in need of a massive rebuild. Ohtani will almost certainly be pleased with the former, but will he risk the latter?
4. TEXAS RANGERS
The money doesn’t matter … unless maybe it does. The Rangers have the most money to offer Ohtani, narrowly beating out the Yankees for that honor. Like the Giants, the Rangers experienced a down year in 2017. But there’s a little more to like in Texas if things go wrong again in 2018.
For one, the team doesn’t have too many crippling long-term deals to worry about. Only Cole Hamels, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus are owed over $15 million in 2018 and potentially beyond. There would be room in the budget to add some significant free agents to help Ohtani. Not only that, but the Rangers still have a solid cast of youngsters who should improve. And who knows, maybe Ohtani is influenced by the money more than everyone thought?
5. SEATTLE MARINERS
It makes sense. In fact, the only reason Seattle ranks this low is that the franchise carries a rather glum reputation. The Mariners are mired in the longest current postseason drought, and it has reached a point where everyone just assumes nothing will go right for them.
But Seattle was always considered a strong contender for Ohtani, mostly because Ichiro Suzuki turned himself into a legend in the city. The Mariners can prove definitively that the fans would adore and support Ohtani feverishly from Day 1. For a team that constantly finishes just out of the postseason race, he could be the missing piece.
6. CHICAGO CUBS
Everything seems to be coming up Cubs recently. Maybe 2017 was a bit of a let-down, but prior to that, Chicago couldn’t lose. It wasn’t just hitting on all of their draft picks and turning Jake Arrieta into a superstar. It was lucking into Joe Maddon. It was turning into a desirable franchise that attracted still useful veterans like John Lackey to sign on the cheap.
If you didn’t root for the Cubs, it’s possible — nay, probable — that the team’s success started to get on your nerves. So, of course they are one of the few non-West Coast teams to still be in the hunt. That seems to fit the “Cubs can do no wrong” narrative that has cropped up in recent years.
That’s significant, because pitching the team as “lovable losers” probably wouldn’t be all that enticing to Ohtani.
7. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
You knew the Dodgers would be finalists from Ohtani from the start. They’re already competitive, play in a large market, are located on the West Coast and tend to keep their players around. Ohtani can look at how the team handled Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill last offseason and get a sense of his future. He can dominate for six seasons, maybe even winning a World Series or two, and then get paid a ton by the Dodgers when he’s about to hit the free-agent market.
That doesn’t sound like a bad gig. But you already knew that.
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