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Phillies want to show Ohtani brotherly love

Philadelphia has lengthy history of Japanese relations
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are taking their shot at Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.

They are no different than the other 29 teams in baseball. It is expected that every club will grab an Ohtani lottery ticket, although the Phillies probably wish they had a 1-in-30 chance of winning. They are considered long shots. In fact, not a single report has mentioned them as a remote possibility.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are taking their shot at Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.

They are no different than the other 29 teams in baseball. It is expected that every club will grab an Ohtani lottery ticket, although the Phillies probably wish they had a 1-in-30 chance of winning. They are considered long shots. In fact, not a single report has mentioned them as a remote possibility.

But a chance is a chance, right?

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Ohtani's agent sent a questionnaire to teams this week, allowing the Phillies to make their case. Because Ohtani is beholden to Major League Baseball's rules regarding signing bonuses for international free agents, the most he can make is $3.55 million. The Phils have only $900,000 remaining in their international bonus pool to offer him.

But because the bonus is limited -- Ohtani would likely make at least $100 million as a traditional free agent -- other factors will come into play.

That is why the questionnaire asks teams to evaluate Ohtani as a pitcher and hitter, explain the organization's player development, medical and athletic training philosophies, detail its Major League, Minor League and Spring Training facilities, describe the resources for Ohtani's cultural assimilation into its city, offer a vision for how Ohtani will integrate into its organization and make a case for why its team and city is a good place to play.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler played in Japan in 2005, so he has familiarity with Japanese baseball and its culture. He is a progressive thinker who tried to make the Dodgers the healthiest team in professional sports when he became their player development director a few years ago.

Perhaps that resonates with Ohtani.

The community question is an interesting one. If Ohtani prefers a large Japanese community, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York are better fits than Philadelphia, which has probably only a few thousand Japanese families in the metro area.

"There's a lot to offer here," said Aaron Dilliplane, who is the associate director for special projects for the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia. "There's a history that goes back quite a way."

The relationship between Japan and Philadelphia extends at least to the 1860s, when a Japanese delegation visited after the Meiji Restoration opened their country to the rest of the world. Fairmount Park has the popular Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and hosts an annual cherry blossom festival, drawing tens of thousands of people every year. The Japanese Association of Greater Philadelphia is a non-profit organization that has served the area since 1964. It provides information and counseling to Japanese newcomers to the region.

"There are resources available to him so he can stay connected to his culture," Dilliplane said.

So Taguchi and Tadahito Iguchi are the only Japanese players to play for the Phillies, but the club has other connections to Japan. Charlie Manuel had a legendary career there. If Ohtani knows his Japanese baseball history, he certainly has heard of Aka Oni (the Red Devil). Of course, there is Kapler, too.

"Ohtani will be very appreciated as the first (star) Japanese player to the Phillies," emailed Yoko Stehr, who is affiliated with the Japanese Association of Greater Philadelphia.

But even if Ohtani likes what he sees in Philadelphia's culture and believes he can integrate into the organization, the Phillies still must sell themselves. They are still rebuilding while teams like the Dodgers and Yankees have legitimate expectations to be in the World Series next year. The Phils will have to convince Ohtani that they have the talent in the system and the resources available (i.e. ownership's deep pockets) to be contenders in the near future.

They believe they will be.

This is a team with a fair amount of young talent and only one long-term salary commitment in Odubel Herrera. So they could sell Ohtani on the fact that if he comes on board, they could also be players in the robust 2018 free-agent market with him, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Herrera, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and J.P. Crawford already in place as a promising young core.

The Phillies also have to convince Ohtani that while Philly is not New York or Los Angeles, the marketplace is large enough that he can become a star here, picking up significant endorsement deals along the way.

Hey, Allen Iverson became a megastar here. Ohtani can, too.

"Philly is a great baseball city," Dilliplane said. "I hope he comes here. He's a special player."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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