Shohei Ohtani Betting: Which Team Will Land the Japanese Superstar?

by Taylor Smith
on December 6, 2017

Major League Baseball’s free agency period has begun, but news items have been tough to come by so far. None of the biggest names on the market have signed new deals as of yet. Veteran catcher Welington Castillo is probably the most recognizable name to have found a new home, as he inked a 2-year deal to join the Chicago White Sox last week.

While trade rumors swirling around Giancarlo Stanton have been a dominant storyline, the most sought-after free agent currently available is Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is a 23-year-old capable of throwing 100 miles-an-hour while also swinging a powerful bat from the left side of the plate. Due to his potential as both a pitcher and a hitter, Ohtani has earned the early nickname “Japanese Babe Ruth.”

All 30 Major League clubs showed interest in acquiring Ohtani for obvious reasons. The new Japanese posting system essentially makes it a level playing field. Due to the new MLB collective bargaining agreement, teams may only offer Ohtani a minor league contract. Teams have a capped amount of signing bonus money available to offer to Ohtani.

While every team in the league showed interest, Ohtani has reportedly narrowed his list of potential destinations to 7 clubs. Throughout the week, he will reportedly meet with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers.

Which club has the best chance of acquiring Japanese Babe Ruth? Let’s break it down.

Seattle Mariners +250

While the Mariners make for something of a surprise favorite, the franchise’s history with Japanese players is surely playing a big part in their recruitment of Ohtani. General manager Jerry DiPoto revealed on a recent podcast that the team has been trying to recruit Ohtani for about a year now, to the surprise of no one.

Ohtani reportedly has interest in being a two-way player at the Major League level. Obviously, this means that an American League team may be a better fit. That way, Ohtani could serve in a designated hitter role on days he is not scheduled to pitch. This would be a more difficult situation for an NL club to navigate.

DiPoto said that the Mariners would be willing to play Nelson Cruz, who typically serves as the team’s DH, in the outfield in order to accommodate Ohtani. The Mariners have about $1.5 million in signing bonus cash to offer Ohtani, which is less than some of the other clubs on the list of finalists. However, sources close to Ohtani say that the money isn’t much of a factor in his decision-making.

Seattle has had at least one Japanese player on the roster since 1998. Ichiro Suzuki is by far the most famous Japanese player to enjoy success in the big leagues. Suzuki spent the first 11-plus seasons of his career with the Mariners. Once Ichiro goes into the Hall of Fame, one would imagine he will be donning an Ms cap.

DiPoto said, “The history of the Japanese player in Seattle has been so celebrated and some of the greatest players in our franchise’s history have been from Japan. There is an attraction there. There has to be, for a player who is as respectful of those who came before him as Shohei Ohtani appears to be.”

Ohtani reportedly prefers the west coast due to its proximity to Japan, as well. Geographically speaking, Seattle is the closest Major League market to Japan, which should prove advantageous for the Mariners in their quest to lure the phenom.

The Mariners are the early favorites, and it’s easy to see why.

San Diego Padres +350

The Padres aren’t a team that make a lot of noise when it comes to splashy signings, but Ohtani is reportedly intrigued by the notion of moving to San Diego. Ohtani reportedly does not necessarily want to play in a massive media markettha and San Diego certainly fits the bill on that front.

The Padres have reportedly been interested in Ohtani for quite a while, as well. The Padres have had a relationship with Ohtani’s Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, since 2008. The Ham Fighters have spent time at the Padres’ spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona. It’s worth noting the facility is also home to the Seattle Mariners.

Ohtani should also be familiar with San Diego’s GM, AJ Preller. Preller worked with the Texas Rangers when the Rangers signed Yu Darvish in 2011. Darvish and Ohtani are reportedly quite close. Several other noteworthy former big leaguers, such as Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito, also currently work in the Padres organization.

Ohtani has said that he would prefer to play for a big league club without an established Japanese star. The Padres’ roster is devoid of stars in general, let alone stars from Japan.

The Padres, despite being a National League club, also seem willing to be flexible regarding Ohtani’s interest in pitching and hitting. Christian Bethancourt, who came up as a catcher but has since become a pitcher, was on the roster last season in both capacities.

It’s also worth noting that there are worse places to live than San Diego. While team success may still be a ways off for the Padres, attracting Ohtani would be a huge step in the right direction for a franchise that has struggled mightily over the last decade. The Padres aren’t as strong a bet as the Mariners at +350, but there are plenty of links here. San Diego should not be written off just because of the franchise’s sketchy recent history.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels +500

While the Dodgers and Angels both claim to be from Los Angeles, only the Dodgers actually play their games within the city limits of America’s second-largest media market. The Angels’ name is a misnomer. The Halos play their games in Anaheim. Angel Stadium is 31 miles south of Dodger Stadium. The Angels don’t even play in L.A. County.

So, they shouldn’t really be grouped together. If Ohtani does not prefer to play in a big market, perhaps the Dodgers aren’t the right fit. The team also has a Japanese star in Kenta Maeda, and Darvish also most recently pitched for L.A. Darvish is likely to leave as a free agent, but there is still a chance he could re-up with the Dodgers.

While adding Ohtani would make L.A. even more terrifying than they already are, it sounds as though there are too many snags to a potential deal. The Dodgers don’t make for a great value at +500 here

The Angels, however, are interesting. Anaheim is not a large market at all, despite the Angels’ attempts to latch on to the Los Angeles name. Anaheim is a different city altogether and it’s best known as the location of Disneyland.

The Halos also don’t have an established Japanese star player, nor have they had many in the past. Living in Orange County would also provide Ohtani to potentially live an L.A.-type of lifestyle without having to deal with the nightmare traffic in the city itself.

Orange County is also home to a massive Japanese community, which is reportedly one of Ohtani’s preferences. The nearby city of Irvine has more than 5,000 Japanese residents, with another 37,000 living in Los Angeles. O.C. checks that box for Ohtani.

The Angels would also afford Ohtani the opportunity to play alongside the game’s best player, Mike Trout. The Angels may not have the best roster around Trout at the moment, but the front office is certainly unafraid of making bold moves in an attempt to win as soon as possible. Adding a player like Ohtani would certainly accelerate the rebuilding process.

The Angels provide Ohtani with circumstances similar to what the Padres offer, though the roster as currently constructed is closer to winning. The Angels are also an AL team if that helps.

San Francisco Giants +750

The Giants are coming off of a miserable season, but all is not lost. The team is reportedly one of the frontrunners to land superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton via trade, and they also scored a meeting with Ohtani. Adding one, or both, players would put the Giants right back in the NL playoff discussion.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was recently asked about Ohtani, and he said, “This guy is special. I see him as somebody who could be a starter and it’s possible you’re also looking at 300 or 400 at-bats. It’s going to make it a little easier next year with our days off, looking at the new schedule, to where he could play even more because he’ll get additional rest. That’ll make it easier, too.”

So, it sounds as though the Giants would also be willing to let Ohtani pitch and hit at the same time. Of course, their status as a National League ballclub means Ohtani will have to play in the field rather than DHing, but, evidently that’s not a deal-breaker for the young star.

San Francisco is another city with a gigantic Japanese population. SF is home to about 11,000 Japanese citizens, which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the city’s population. By percentage, San Francisco has the fourth-biggest Japanese population in the United States.

Still, the Giants do feel like something of a long shot. There has been more buzz around the Mariners and Padres, which makes the Giants feel like a fringe contender. We’ll pass on SF here at +750.

Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers +1000

Here we have the only 2 of the 7 finalists that aren’t on the west coast. Both Chicago and the Dallas area are about 6,400 miles from Japan, which is about 1,000 miles further than some of the west coast contenders.

If Ohtani wants to play in a smaller market on the west coast, neither Chicago nor Texas make any sense. Chicago is the third-biggest media market in the country, while Dallas-Fort Worth is No. 5. If you group Anaheim in with the L.A. market, the smallest market among the remaining contenders for Ohtani’s services is San Diego, which ranks 28th.

If Ohtani actually does want the most money, then he should sign with the Rangers. Texas has $3,535,000 available to offer Ohtani, which is the most of any of the 7 finalists. The Mariners rank second ($1,557,500), with the Angels ($1,315,000) third. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Padres may only offer Ohtani the minimum of $300,000 for next season.

The Cubs may give Ohtani a shot at getting to the World Series, while the Rangers are more of a rebuilding side. Perhaps Darvish, who played for the Rangers from 2012 through mid-2017, put in a good word on Texas’ behalf. There’s really no other explanation as to why either of these teams is among the finalists.

It seems rather unlikely that Ohtani will wind up in Chicago or Texas. In terms of value and likelihood, here is where we’ll rank the 7 teams on Ohtani’s list:

  • Seattle Mariners +250
  • San Diego Padres +350
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim +500
  • San Francisco Giants +750
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +500
  • Texas Rangers +1000
  • Chicago Cubs +1000
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