Free Agent Matrix: Who's the favorite to sign Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani
While the Hot Stove is a beautiful respite from the dreary world, it can be complicated sometimes. To help, we've created the Cespedes Family BBQ Free Agent Matrix to determine where this offseason's top free agents could end up.
In the last 20 years or so we've seen a bunch of really talented Japanese players make their way over to the States. From Hideo Nomo and Ichiro to Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenta Maeda and everyone in between, so many Japanese players have made significant contributions in MLB.
Shohei Ohtani feels different.
The 23-year-old Ohtani is already a household name for many American baseball fans, and the dude hasn't even signed yet. The stories about Ohtani that have filtered out of Japan over the last few years read like a Sidd Finch sequel. Not only can Ohtani throw a baseball 100-plus mph, but he can also hit one 450-plus feet.
His immense ability isn't the only thing setting Ohtani apart -- his free agency is a situation unlike anything we've ever seen before. As a player under 25 years old with less than six years of service time in a foreign professional league, Ohtani is subject to international amateur spending limits.
This unusual situation means that all 30 teams in baseball most likely have the financial flexibility to get a deal done -- meaning other factors will play a larger role in Ohtani's decision.
Because Ohtani's situation is very different than all other free agents on the market right now, we had to alter our Matrix a bit. Let's see which teams are in the mix to bring over this legendary talent:
The Dark Horses
Twins: Asked whether he would let Ohtani hit or not, Twins GM Thad Levine said: "I think we'd let him do whatever he damn well pleases." Minnesota can't boast a big market like LA or NYC, but the Twins are a young and talented ballclub rounding into form and for which Ohtani could be the perfect spark.
Phillies: The Phillies already have a powerful, other-worldly baseball force in alien life-form Rhys Hoskins, so why not go and get another freak of nature?
Giants: Throw Ohtani in to a rotation that already has out-for-redemption Madison Bumgarner and something-to-prove Johnny Cueto? Watch. Out. Also, Ohtani might be able to get a few at-bats for a Giants team that finished dead last in dingers last season.
Mariners: The Mariners are the perpetual dark horse when it comes to Japanese signings and for good reason. The M's have had nine Japanese players in their franchise history, second-most in baseball. While recent addition Ryon Healy should DH the majority of the time, a Mariners team that used 40 different pitchers last season -- most in MLB history -- could use certainly use Ohtani's mystical heater.
Rangers: The Rangers have been interested in the Japanese youngster since he graduated high school. The comparisons between Ohtani and former Ranger Yu Darvish are also, if overstated, obvious: both men played for the same team in Japan, the Nippon Ham Fighters, with Ohtani inheriting Darvish's iconic number No. 11 uniform after Darvish signed with Texas in 2012.
Dodgers: Imagine if the Dodgers re-sign Darvish. The Kershaw, Hill, Ohtani, Darvish, Maeda rotation would be so awesome. While the Dodgers are more limited than other teams in what they can offer Ohtani, the major media market in Los Angeles is certainly an appealing prospect to the appealing prospect.
Yankees: Simply put, Ohtani and Judge on the same team would be downright captivating. For a Yankees squad looking for both another starter and a DH, what's more perfect than a dude who can do both?