Although there would have been pure joy every time someone with a Baltimore accent said his name, the Orioles aren’t going to be getting a chance at the arriving Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani. On Sunday, the interested teams were winnowed down to seven. The Orioles are not on the list.
This is not a surprise, though it’s still disappointing. The biggest reason for the disappointment is that it’s quite possible the Orioles never even tried. Despite knowing all year that Ohtani would be arriving, they’ve spent the whole year trading away the international bonus money they might have offered him.
Perhaps the Orioles never believed Ohtani would come here anyway. With his final seven teams all being found on the map in Chicago and farther west, it seems that being just a little closer to home, and perhaps with more of a Japanese community nearby, were significant factors for him. The fact that the seven finalists all have spring training homes in Arizona does not seem to be a coincidence.
Ohtani also seemed interested in hearing about teams’ player development philosophies. The Orioles have been particularly challenged with developing pitchers in recent years. If you were a pitcher (and also hitter) with the choice of any MLB team, would you choose the Orioles right now? The O’s have done well at keeping pitchers healthy, but they don’t do well at getting the most out of their starting pitchers.
It also seems possible that no matter how good Ohtani was believed to be, the Orioles in their continuing stubbornness to meaningfully engage with the international market were not willing to put up the $20 million that must be paid to Ohtani’s Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, for posting him to MLB.
In one of the only instances of an Orioles beat writer mentioning Ohtani at all, The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina wrote a couple of weeks ago about the O’s interest in putting up that posting fee:
(The remaining bonus pool) doesn’t allow the Orioles to be a player in the Otani sweepstakes even if they wanted to or were willing to pay the posting fee, which they apparently don’t have any interest in anyway.
Being a fan of this team is frustrating. The Orioles will almost certainly commit more than $20 million to a player worse than Ohtani on the free agent market this offseason. They’ve done this regularly over the past few seasons. It would be nice to think that sum wouldn’t stop them from signing a player like Ohtani, if they ever had the chance.
Instead, with ESPN’s Buster Olney reporting that at least three teams didn’t even respond to the questionnaire sent out by Ohtani’s agents, I’m left wondering whether the Orioles even bothered to make that token effort. Maybe the Orioles just kept quiet about it to not tip their hand, or maybe they’re quiet because they did nothing.
It’s not all grim for O’s fans about Ohtani, though, because neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will get him. If he does come over and alter the destiny of a franchise for the better, as most reports about him seem to treat as a given, at least the franchise that gets him won’t be one the O’s play often.
There are three AL West teams in the final seven. The O’s see them for two series a year apiece - though they could be wild card competition if the O’s are ever good enough for that again. Looking at the current state of the rotation, that’s only a hypothetical concern anyway.
The others still involved are the Cubs and three NL West teams, who the O’s only see for one series every three years. If Ohtani ends up in Chicago, or with the Dodgers, Giants, or Padres, he won’t be swinging the fortunes of races involving the O’s very often.
It’s worth noting that the signing bonus situation is not necessarily a huge concern for Ohtani. Four of the seven teams who are still in the running can’t offer Ohtani a bonus of more than $300,000 as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pools in previous years. Only the Rangers can offer him a multi-million dollar signing bonus, and even that’s capped at about $3.5 million.
The outright rejection of the Yankees and Red Sox has at least produced some hilarious media reactions from people who don’t understand that not everything in baseball revolves around those markets. The New York Daily News cover about the decision proclaimed Ohtani to be a “chicken” for being scared of playing in NYC. Excuse me while I laugh like Jabba the Hutt.
When you get down to it, there are 29 teams who are going to have to try to get better without Ohtani. Whatever the reason for their being one of those 29 teams, the O’s are there. The offseason is going to move on and their rotation is still a mess. Hopefully, they will be willing and able to do what needs to be done to address that before next season.