If you haven’t heard the name Shohei Ohtani, start paying attention.
Regarded as the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” Ohtani has potential we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. He’s a power-hitting outfielder and ace flamethrower.
Next, he may be an MLB free agent.
What U.S. players does "Japan's Babe Ruth" want to go up against? Meet Shohei Ohtani, Sunday. https://t.co/rskfPzgKMV
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 7, 2017
Shohei Ohtani, the Babe Ruth of Japan, told 60 Minutes he will sign with #MLB team after season, which could cost him $200M by not waiting.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 7, 2017
It’s important to note despite Nightengale’s tweet, there wasn’t any confirmation Ohtani will be posted this offseason. He hinted at the possibility, but didn’t commit one way or another in what “60 Minutes” has released.
Ohtani has yet to pitch this season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, instead serving strictly as the clean-up hitter. He recently began a throwing program to put him on track to continue starring as a position player and pitcher later this year.
Consider this: Ohtani is 22-years-old. His velocity has topped out at 102.5, a Japanese record. Last season showcased his peak: Ohtani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA. He also won the home run derby while finishing his season with 22 dingers and the MVP award.
Not since Ruth has the MLB seen a player with such multi-purpose talent. Ohtani is an athlete who could revolutionize Major League Baseball. And he’s wanted to be an MLB player for quite some time.
Ohtani told Japanese teams not to draft him four years ago. He had his sights set on the MLB, and the Dodgers appeared to be the most likely destination. Nippon offered him the opportunity to hit and pitch, changing Ohtani’s heart and keeping him in Japan. He won MVP that season and led the Ham Fighters to a championship.
Years later, Ohtani is debating his fate. But it’s becoming more apparent his posting time is near.
The Yankees are often considered the favorites, having the money (more on that shortly) and allure of donning the same uniform Ohtani’s hero Hideki Matsui did. The Cubs are rumored to be “all in” on the star, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.
But the Dodgers have motivation too, and the franchise loves nothing more than versatility.
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) April 7, 2017
Aside from the Dodgers’ previous attempt to land Ohtani, there’s logic to an Ohtani-Dodgers marriage. The franchise boasts an international brand that rivals New York’s. It’s also the team employing Clayton Kershaw, an ace Ohtani admires.
“I actually do see myself [in Harper and Kershaw],” said Ohtani on “60 Minutes.” “And I actually try throwing lefty sometimes … Just thinking about facing him makes me really happy and excited. I could tell he’s such a great pitcher through the TV screen.”
What was once considered to be an impending historic bidding war has since dialed down. The new CBA caps foreign players’ earning power if they’re posted before age 25. That means Ohtani’s max salary is $6 million. If he’s posted after the season, he’s taking a pay cut, which Ohtani said is fine. As Nightengale pointed out, if Ohtani waits, he could ignite a bidding war among the MLB’s richest organizations. But that’s three more years of patience for a man who intended to go to America when he was 18.
The new cap forces teams to recruit Ohtani rather than buy him. Let’s say he is posted this offseason or next. From Seattle to Chicago to Atlanta, every organization will want to pitch Ohtani as to why they’re the best fit. And if an organization would rather him focus on one area, it’ll be eliminated from the competition.
In Los Angeles, Ohtani can be incorporated slowly and smartly. The team could make room for him in the rotation while allowing him to play in left field. Ohtani typically receives an off day before taking the mound. L.A. could easily afford to keep that rhythm.
While Ohtani couldn’t DH, he’d be able to hit as a pitcher, adding an entirely new dimension to any NL lineup (a pitcher hitting in the four spot would make Joe Maddon blush). It does appear more reasonable head to the AL, but he acknowledged there’s positives and negatives with both leagues.
The Dodgers signing Ohtani would be a luxury, yet it’s one that could make for his best decision. Expectations will be high, but L.A. could patiently develop a system for him while not setting itself back through the accommodations. Ohtani becomes a future core player alongside Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger. The match of Ohtani and L.A. sounds tantalizing and practical. If he’s one who cares about maximizing market potential, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles align at the top of the list. If he cares about winning, L.A. has him covered there as well.
Simply put, Ohtani might be the rare player worth putting all your chips on the table. With the way Los Angeles emphasizes its player development and assembling a young core, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers not making an empowered effort if Ohtani comes available.
Ohtani’s “60 Minutes” interview airs April 9 at 7 p.m.