Maybe it’s an off-the-wall idea, but I’m daring to dream, so bear with me.
I think Shohei Ohtani could sign with the Tampa Bay Rays. Indeed, I think he should sign with the Rays.
We don't know which MLB team is the favorite to sign Ohtani.
"I don't think there is one," one assistant general manager told MLB.com this week.
We don't know how steadfastly Ohtani, 23, will insist on both pitching and hitting, having dreamed for years of contributing to an MLB franchise in both roles.
The key words in that quote are “We don’t know”, and that applies to a lot of Ohtani related topics.
Before we delve into why I firmly believe the Rays could actually pull this off, let’s get a few things out of the way reference Mr. Ohtani.
First, you can read the latest Ohtani related news here from MLBTR, sharing a list of questions Ohtani and his agent have his MLB suitors to address (in English and Japanese!). Since we’re talking about a guy who can hit 102 MPH on the radar gun and hit a ball as far as Bryce Harper can, we’ll just assume every single MLB team wants him.
Second, here’s what Ohtani himself had to say on the hitting vs pitching issue,
“If I were to focus on one or the other, there’s no guarantee I’d be better at it. Of course, I don’t know the ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ should I focus on one,”
Third, it’s clear that maximizing his earnings isn’t his immediate priority. Consider this from Fighters chief executive Toshimasa Shimada, who likely tried his best to keep Ohtani:
Fighters chief executive Toshimasa Shimada has repeatedly told Kyodo News, “He (Otani) doesn’t care about money. It’s not about the money.”
He’s arguably foregoing more than $100M in order to make he jump to MLB in 2018. Think about that for a quick second.
What is less clear, is what he might value if it’s not maximizing his earnings. He’s being VERY methodical about how he wants teams to make their case, meaning he’s put an extensive amount of thought into this. But we don’t know what he is hoping to learn from this process. We don’t know whether he loves big cities, small towns, cats, or dogs. And we certainly don’t know if he’s aiming to go to a city where there’s a large Japanese presence, a large market city where he will make an immediate splash or a smaller market city where he might be able to make his MLB adjustment with less pressure.
With those uncertainties in mind, here’s my ten-point “Ohtani to the Rays” case:
1. Ohtani Would Join a Strong Core of Established Players
Evan Longoria is a 3-time gold-glove winning 3B signed through 2022, which covers five years of Ohtani’s six years of control. He’ll be joined by a 2-time Gold Glove winning CF who also happens to be signed through 2022. So as far as top-end defensive guys behind him at key positions, the Rays have a lot to offer.
As for pitchers of note, there’s Chris Archer, a young personable pitcher who arguably ranks among the top 10 in MLB. Archer’s infectious personality is sure to help make Ohtani feel comfortable and give him time to get used to MLB before being asked to lead the way on the mound. Oh, and he’ll be there with Ohtani for a minimum of four years as he’s signed through 2021.
And by the way, Mr. Ohtani, this core’s peak in salary costs is an extremely affordable $41.3M in 2021, ensuring that the Rays will be able to support that core with you and a strong supporting cast, which brings us to the next point.
2. Stadium Dilemma, Resulting Boost in Budget, and Extension
Here’s what the Sapporo Dome looks like,
Quiet honestly, Tropicana Field’s bright ceiling may be a welcome change and be a good way to still make him feel at home.
The Rays can make the case that their stadium issue is on the verge of resolution, given the potential for the Ybor site, and provide an estimated timeline to playing in a new stadium with the advantages that may confer.
One angle the Rays can add is that Atlanta’s boost in income (example, from $105M to $189M for one quarter) post-stadium build and subsequent increase in spending is something the front office expects will happen in TB. They will then be able to use to attract more players to TB, or keep them around for a longer timeframe.
And it could even help them pay Ohtani a hefty raise with an early extension agreement, something the Rays have already done three times (Longoria, Moore, and Archer). We know he’s not all about the money, but knowing they’ll have some and be willing to share can be attractive to the complete package the Rays offer.
3. Otani Wants to Play Against the Very Best
Let’s not sugar coat it, the Rays are in a very tight spot within the AL East. They are the David among Goliaths, and that may be an appeal to Ohtani. If he can be a key cog in the wheel that rolls over the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles, he’d be placing his name in the record books as possibly THE main reason the tides changed in TB’s fortunes.
Should he join the Rays, Ohtani will face AL East rivals 19 times each. That’s a lot of time spent in NY, Toronto, and Boston, where I’m sure he can have a lot of fun exploring their culturally diverse areas. It’s not like he’s spending the majority of his time in areas where diversity is limited. And it’s not just about where he goes on the road, it’s also about the lifestyle he wants to lead and how much he values his privacy.
Let’s address these next.
4. The Media Hounds
Remember how Randy Johnson reacted to being hounded by the media in NY? How about Kenny Rogers? If you need a refresher, both are in this top 10:
Ohtani may not go to those extremes if hounded within those cities, but if you’re a big star, it’s hard to imagine the media simply leaving you alone, unless you live in Tampa, that is.
Tampa Bay isn’t known to be the type of environment where media consistently hound professional sports athletes. Therefore, if trying to settle in and get used to the media craze while also having a chance to take a breath and relax in public once in a while, he may actually favor smaller market locations.
And locations are what I’ll touch on next.
5. Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Miami
Should Ohtani decide on joining the Rays it’s not as if a bubble goes over the city and he becomes part of The Truman show. South/Central Florida has a lot to offer.
Florida is world renowned for its tourism industry for good reason. People come here to have fun, play golf, water ski, visit Disney and all of its parks, visit Legoland, take cruises around the Caribbean, watch the sunset on its beautiful shores.
We have nightlife but we also have quiet beaches. We have museums as well as great fishing and bird watching. Whatever Ohtani enjoys, we probably have it here.
Finally, for a guy who is NOT getting paid a gazillion dollars, Florida’s relative affordability and lack of an income tax (a benefit that the Mariners, Astros and Rangers would offer as well) could be a draw.
6. Ohtani is NOT from a major city
Ohtani was born in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, Japan with a population of 119,325. While Tampa Bay’s 2.8M people is a whole lot more than Oshu’s, it’s much less than many of the landing spots he is considering.
Occasional peace and quiet has its perks, and there’s nothing wrong with TB promoting the fact that he’ll likely be able to enjoy some during homestands.
7. Ohtani Wants to Hit, Field, and Pitch
It’s going to be almost impossible for any MLB team to come off as truly sincere when they tell Ohtani that they’re willing to let him hit (part of what he’s reportedly asking for) and field, as well as pitch. Sure, they’ll pitch that to him and maybe they’ll want to try it, but that doesn’t seem to be what Ohtani wants. He seems to want assurances that teams will follow through on that promise long-term.
Although he did leave the door open for teams to voice how they really want to use him:
About playing both ways: Ohtani says he will listen to MLB have to say.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) November 11, 2017
Should a team put itself in the “we want you to decide on one” side, they’re likely taking themselves off the list of candidate teams.
In order to get someone like Ohtani as many at bats as possible while also using him as a starter, an MLB team may have to consider going to the dreaded 6-man rotation, or at the very least a 5-man modified rotation. Whichever one the team settles on, however, it would seem that the best case scenario has Ohtani following this kind of schedule:
- Game 1: Pitch, Game 2: Rest, Game 3: Field/Hit, Game 4: Field/Hit, Game 5: Rest or DH, Game 6: Pitch
*caveat: days off between each series can have an impact on whether or not he really needs those rest days
ESPN’s Buster Olney has a thorough and well-thought out piece on this issue available here.
The point is that an MLB team would need to be very flexible in how it uses some of its other pitchers, and the Rays front office seem very motivated to think outside the box.
Also, the Rays are one of the few teams that have the depth to accommodate a solid 6-man rotation or modified 5-man rotation without blinking an eye. When Matt Andriese, Nathan Eovaldi, Austin Pruitt, Chih-Wei Hu and at least 4 high-end minor league pitchers are vying for the 6th or flex SP position in such a scenario, depth is a luxury the Rays have in spades.
That brings us to the example they can present to Ohtani as proof they’ll follow through with allowing him to pitch and hit.
8. The Rays’ dedication to Brendan McKay as a two-way player
The post-draft period McKay spent playing in the minor leagues for the Rays was short due to his participation in the College World Series. However, despite a lengthy season and post-season, the Rays allowed McKay to try his hand at both pitching and hitting.
McKay managed 125 AB as well as 20 IP for Hudson Valley. While it’s a tiny sample size on both sides, it indicated one key factor that many overlooked: the pace of games pitched.
While making his 6 starts, McKay pitched on the following dates,
- 2017-08-06 (7 days later)
- 2017-08-13 (7 days later)
- 2017-08-20 (7 days later)
- 2017-08-27 (7 days later)
- 2017-09-04 (7 days later)
The link between this schedule and how pitching works in Japan must be noted here, but assuming this schedule would allow Ohtani to continue using a similar workout and playing-pitching schedule.
Therefore, by allowing a player that they spent over $7M and a 4th overall selection on (McKay) to perform what could be Ohtani’s preferred schedule, it not only makes the Rays stand out from the crowd, it may very well help put them among the leaders.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Rays have one of the best minors systems in MLB to support this process, which we should now get to.
9. The Rays have one of Best Minors System in MLB
Should the Rays bring Ohtani on board, he knows that despite a restricted budget, the Rays have an extremely talented minors system. He’ll be told about a young SS (Willy Adames) with a cannon of an arm who is possibly their next cornerstone player and will be contributing in 2018. Then there’s Brent Honeywell, who like Adames is ranked within the top 25 prospects in all of MLB.
Along with a top-notch system that moved from 10th pre-season to 5th overall mid-season the Rays have also committed to being aggressive on the international market since 2012 (as noted here). Not only has this approach allowed them to land top talents such as Adrian Rondon and Wander Franco, both ranked at the top of their respective classes, but it’s also leaked into their trades, where they targeted players whose bonuses may not have been affordable initially (ex. Carlos Vargas and Lucius Fox). In short, they have the system to ensure long-term success.
But for Ohtani, it’s not just that they have one of the best systems in MLB. It’s also about how well they do in their development of pitchers, which is my next point.
10. The Rays excel at Developing Pitchers
The Rays now have a full decade of success in developing pitchers. David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Blake Snell are just some of the pitchers the Rays can point to as examples of what they can produce.
Not only would he have the knowledge that the organization would be able to support his pitching, but as noted above the Rays have some of the very best defenders in MLB which can help him get out of jams on occasion.
Yes, we know that that New York media has already decided that Ohtani’s signing with the Yankees is all but assured, but the Rays are definitely competitive in this race. With a front office that’s able to think outside the box and has become very aggressive in chasing top international talent, I fully expect they’ll present a strong case.
There are probably few others out there that see a strong case to be made for the Rays landing Shohei Ohtani, but I’d rather dare to dream because as Morosi was quoted saying above, there’s a lot “We don’t know” about who Ohtani is and what he may or may not want.
To finish things off, here are a couple of Ohtani videos to help you get to know this young man. The first is an interview he conducted with Jon Paul Morosi, and the second is an at-bat in a game against the Netherlands where he hits a pitch way up into the left-center field stands. Finally we present a compilation of his 2016 highlights.
And just because you should get to see as much of Ohtani as possible in order to understand what all of the hype is about, here’s one last beauty with great angles of his pitching and hitting abilities.