One common reason given for the slow-moving offseason is that everyone is waiting to see what happens with young Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, whose long-anticipated leap to MLB will at last become a reality later this week. This is not very interesting to Orioles fans because the O’s aren’t going to sign Ohtani and they may not even make a token effort to do so.
What if the Orioles did try to sign Ohtani, though? This is nothing more than a flight of fancy to even contemplate, but unless you’re filled with a desire to talk about the 14 players the Orioles signed to minor league deals yesterday, Ohtani’s the only story going right now.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the agent representing Ohtani, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, sent a memo to all 30 MLB teams asking them, in essence, for a sales pitch that has nothing to do with financial terms. Balelo is also the agent of Adam Jones, though this probably doesn’t mean anything.
According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, teams are asked to present the following in order to allow Ohtani to narrow his focus before anyone even starts negotiating anything:
- 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.
Ohtani is young enough that he will actually fall under the international amateur signing bonus system. You may recall that the Orioles have spent the year trading away their bonus money like suckers.
However, this will not necessarily disqualify them, because the difference between what the O’s and the team with the most money can offer is only about $3 million. This contract is not where Ohtani will make his money, if all goes as well as he hopes. Theoretically, every team could be in play, hence soliciting a presentation from all 30 clubs.
If you're wondering why every team should go chasing for Ohtani, it's probably because he can be described like this from a recent Jeff Passan article:
He is, according to people around the game, a lot of things. A staggering talent, capable of throwing a ball 102 mph from the right side and hitting it like a leviathan from the left side and running with the speed of Mike Trout despite standing 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.
Is he actually going to be all of that in MLB? I have no idea. It's not going to cost any team much to find out. Worse free agents than Ohtani will get a lot more money this offseason.
In the real world, I don’t know if the O’s will even bother to answer this questionnaire. After all, along with signing Ohtani would come a $20 million payment to his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Do the Orioles even have that money lying around? Let’s just suppose that they were going to try. What would that sales pitch look like?
Scouting report on Ohtani
What’s remarkable about Ohtani is that he is believed to want to play both ways, pitching and hitting. This simply isn’t done because no one is good enough at both to make it worth focusing on both. Maybe Ohtani can do it.
The Orioles free agent signings and trades for the past three years do raise the question of how good a grip they even have on recognizing talent. What do they think about Ohtani? Have they even spent much time looking at him? I don’t know. Presumably, a team that says Ohtani can be both a starting pitcher and a hitter gets the edge, so let’s hope they think that and say it.
Player development philosophies, etc.
There’s not much of a way to sugarcoat how much the Orioles have sucked in recent years at developing starting pitchers. This is why this whole thought exercise is divorced from reality. The best thing they might be able to say is that they can offer consultations with Jim Palmer about how to never give up a grand slam.
Seriously, though, the Orioles have the whole weird hang-up about cutters, Buck Showalter’s obsession (apparently unique) with shortening a pitcher’s time to the plate, and minimal demonstrated ability in polishing off breaking pitches. The name of Jake Arrieta should be all that's necessary to scare anyone in Ohtani's shoes away from Baltimore.
What the O’s do have is a relatively good track record with pitcher health, especially as it relates to their elbows. At the MLB level, at least, they have not been a Tommy John factory. Is that enough? Probably not.
MLB, minor league, and spring training facilities
I take this to mean whether there are state-of-the-art amenities available to players rather than a discussion about park factors. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is now among the older stadiums in MLB, but every indication is that the team works hard to keep it from feeling that way. It’s not one of the places where you hear players complaining about it. The same is true for the spring training facilities ever since they moved to Sarasota.
If there ever was a need for a rehab assignment, the fact that the Orioles minor league teams are all relatively close to Baltimore is nice. A guy can do a little rehab in Bowie and Frederick and still sleep in his regular season bed. Not every MLB team can say this.
Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation
The Baltimore area is not exactly known for its large numbers of people of Japanese descent. There have, on the other hand, been a few players who have come over from Asia to the O’s and seemed to fit in just fine. So maybe the Orioles have been able to handle this well.
That includes the recent example of Hyun Soo Kim, whose time on the field didn’t go as hoped but who certainly appeared to fit in on a personal level, with teammates and the organization making him feel welcome. Wei-Yin Chen was here for four years and the worst he had to deal with (other than getting a two-day paper demotion to the Gulf Coast League late every August) was Gary Thorne trying to goad him into speaking English in an interview.
The last O’s Japanese player, Koji Uehara, fit in well enough that he was emotional about being traded away - and still felt enough of a connection to Baltimore that, when Cubs teammates this year wore football jerseys on a road trip, Uehara wore a Joe Flacco jersey.
Detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization
Writing for Fangraphs yesterday, Travis Sawchik explained this criteria as looking for assurance that Ohtani would be with the big league club, getting playing time. Through this lens, the Orioles can offer Ohtani a greater assurance than any other MLB team can, because both their starting rotation and designated hitters were horrible in the 2017 season.
The league-worst rotation is well known. Orioles DHs were bad, too, with the second-worst OPS in the AL and a total batting line of .226/.289/.379 combined. Rotation spots are wide open. Designated hitter is somewhat less open, due to the now-lamentable presence of Mark Trumbo. One would hope that the Orioles would not treat Trumbo as an impediment to pursuing Ohtani.
Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play
Every team will surely cite why its fans are the best, but only Baltimore fans are prepared with a regional accent that is the most natural fit for a player named Shohei Ohtani. The stars have aligned.
What’s more, the small market of Baltimore could be a selling point in the sense that, while Ohtani will be a media fascination, he’s not going to get hounded continually by some large and dogged press corps full of bloviators and egotists like he would in a larger city. He might never have to answer a question from a local English language reporter that doesn’t begin with “Talk about.”
As for the franchise, well, the Orioles had better be able to present the case that they have a solid plan to be in contention with or without Manny Machado beyond the 2018 season. With the aforementioned horrible rotation and no pitching prospects who have succeeded above High-A Frederick, along with the pending free agent exodus, it’s no sure thing that such a plan exists.
Relevant marketplace characteristics
Let’s face it, if you want to be the talk of MLB and racking up the big-dollar endorsements, Baltimore is not the place to be.
That’s not to say there’s no potential and no charm in being one of the most famous and recognizable athletes in the area. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood will offer Ohtani crab cakes for life the second it appears that the Orioles might be semi-serious suitors. He could add some multi-lingual flair to “Jack says yes!” car dealership commercials or Royal Farms fried chicken commercials. Under Armour might want to sign him up.
Would any of that be worth much to a 23-year-old coming over from Japan, looking to make it big in MLB? No. Probably none of this is worth much of anything compared to what big-market teams and 2017 contenders can offer to Ohtani. The Orioles aren’t going to sign him. But I hope they at least try.
How would you try and sell Ohtani on the Orioles?