The week ahead in Major League Baseball might be seen by some as a lull in the action, what with Thanksgiving behind us and the Winter Meetings not beginning until Dec. 10.But don't tell that to Shohei Ohtani or his family or his handlers or his fans. And definitely don't
The week ahead in Major League Baseball might be seen by some as a lull in the action, what with Thanksgiving behind us and the Winter Meetings not beginning until Dec. 10.
But don't tell that to Shohei Ohtani or his family or his handlers or his fans. And definitely don't tell that to the 30 Major League teams that will soon begin what should be an intense and memorable competition to secure the Japanese two-way sensation's services.
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Friday sets up as a huge day for Ohtani, the 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder extraordinaire who has starred in Nippon Professional Baseball since he came up from his native country's high school ranks. As a result of last Tuesday's agreement between MLB, NPB and the Major League Baseball Players Association on a new posting system to oversee players moving from NPB to the Major Leagues, all that needs to happen for Ohtani to be free to sign with an MLB team is for the terms of that deal to be ratified. That is expected to happen Friday.
Once that happens, expect a weekend, perhaps the entire Winter Meetings, and maybe even the holiday season leading up until Dec. 21 -- when the 21-day posting period ends -- consumed to some degree with the Ohtani chase.
"We, like every other club out there, [are] diligently putting together materials as to why we think our situation can be conducive to a player like Ohtani," Twins general manager Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio on Sunday.
• Pursuing Ohtani a 'top priority' for Twins
The main reason all 30 teams could be viewed as legitimate contenders at this point has to do with money. While Ohtani's Japanese team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, will be paid a posting fee of $20 million for the transfer of Ohtani's rights to whichever MLB club he decides to sign with, the signing bonus he will receive will be dictated by international free-agent market rules because he is 23. If he were 25 or older, he'd be a true free agent.
That means clubs intending to go after Ohtani have either been diligent in how they've spent their allotted bonus pool money, according to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ($4.75 million for most teams, $5.25 million for clubs that received Competitive Balance Draft picks in Round A or $5.75 million for clubs that received Competitive Balance Draft picks in Round B) or traded with other teams for more international bonus money.
As of Wednesday, the leaderboard for most money available to potentially offer Ohtani had the Rangers on top with $3.53 million, followed by the Yankees ($3.5 million), the Twins ($3.07 million), the Pirates ($2.26 million), Giants ($1.83 million), Mariners ($1.55 million), Royals ($1.5 million), Marlins ($1.49 million), Cardinals ($1.24 million) and Braves ($1.21 million).
So this is not some normal case of the highest bidder having the biggest advantage. And it's fitting, because this is not some normal player.
Ohtani has a fastball that reaches 100 mph, a wicked, MLB-ready slider, and the hitting resume to back up all the hype. In his last full season, 2016, he posted a 1.86 ERA and struck out 174 batters in 140 innings while slashing .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers. His 2017 campaign was shortened by right ankle surgery, but he is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Now it's up to the teams to charm him onto their rosters, and there will be no shortage of pursuers.
The Mariners have a long history of enticing Japanese stars, and their GM, Jerry Dipoto, said recently he'll try to convince Ohtani that the Pacific Northwest and Safeco Field should be the perfect destination for a guy who wants to feel at home in his new MLB city.
"We have spent most of the past year preparing for this moment," Dipoto told Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith in a recent podcast. "Whether it's written presentations, something aesthetic for him to touch and feel ... we've put together a film on the merits of Seattle and the Mariners. And we're hopeful at some point we get to sit down in the same room."
Dipoto said he's aware that Ohtani is looking to pitch and play the field in the big leagues, so he mentioned being willing to have regular designated hitter Nelson Cruz play the outfield several times a week to open up at-bats for Ohtani. That could be another determining factor for Ohtani's decision.
"Everything out there is he wants to play the field and wants to go to a team that will let him," a scout told MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. "He really wants to be the cornerstone of the organization. He wants to feel he's a big part of any organization he goes to."
The Ohtani lottery, for all intents and purposes, will begin in earnest on Friday. It should be a wild ride through the first few weeks of December.
"He is looking for a competitive environment in which he thinks he can thrive and develop at the Major League level," Levine said. "Clearly by bypassing the payday that he would've received by staying in Japan for two more years, he wants to start competing against Major League hitters right now."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.