PITTSBURGH -- On Wednesday, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates would "do everything in our power" to get beyond the first step of the Shohei Ohtani signing process. But it wasn't enough to secure a meeting with the recently posted two-way Japanese superstar.The Pirates learned on Sunday that they
PITTSBURGH -- On Wednesday, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates would "do everything in our power" to get beyond the first step of the Shohei Ohtani signing process. But it wasn't enough to secure a meeting with the recently posted two-way Japanese superstar.
The Pirates learned on Sunday that they were not on the short list of clubs granted an in-person interview with Ohtani, a source told MLB.com. The Bucs planned to make the city of Pittsburgh a key part of their pitch to Ohtani, but the 23-year-old pitcher and slugger seemingly favored the West Coast over southwestern Pennsylvania.
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The Giants, Mariners and Padres are reportedly among the finalists to sign Ohtani. He has scheduled meetings with clubs this week in Los Angeles.
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The Pirates had a handful of factors working in their favor as they sought to sign Ohtani. For one, they own the fourth-highest available international bonus pool at $2,266,750. If money had been an issue, the small-market Bucs had a rare financial advantage.
But Ohtani does not appear to be motivated by money. He has reportedly turned down the Yankees and Twins, who had more pool money at their disposal than the Pirates.
By entering the Majors this offseason, Ohtani passed up on a potential nine-figure contract two years from now. The cost to acquire him includes a $20 million posting fee, a limited signing bonus (from the chosen club's international bonus pool) and a Minor League contract. That helped level the playing field for smaller-market clubs like the Pirates.
Planning their pursuit, the Pirates noticed similarities between Pittsburgh and the area in which Ohtani grew up. They hoped that would work in their favor if they had a chance to meet, but they weren't given the opportunity.
Ohtani was born in the rural northeastern Japanese town of Oshu, which lies about 3 1/2 hours north of Tokyo by train. Coincidentally, Oshu is in Japan's Iwate Prefecture, which has a capital city -- Morioka -- located at the confluence of three rivers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Ohtani lived in his former team's dormitories and did not have a driver's license in Japan. His celebrity status was created by his accomplishments on the field, not intrigue over his personal life. It seemed plausible, then, that a smaller media market like Pittsburgh might appeal to him.
Instead, Ohtani will head elsewhere and the Pirates will move on.
Ohtani, 23, slashed .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 382 plate appearances while recording a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts over 140 innings on the mound in 2016 for Nippon Professional Baseball's Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He missed significant time in '17 due to an ankle injury, but he put up a .942 OPS and 3.20 ERA in his return.
Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, sent a questionnaire to all 30 clubs last week asking why they would be the best fit for his client. According to The Associated Press, Ohtani asked teams to identify -- in English and Japanese -- his strengths and weaknesses as a player and to describe their player-development system, their medical/training programs, their Major and Minor League facilities and how they would make him feel comfortable.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.