4 reasons Ohtani could choose the Padres

Japanese sensation included Friars on short list of clubs to meet

December 5th, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- Shohei Ohtani, the two-way free-agent sensation from Japan, has reportedly narrowed his list of potential suitors to seven teams. The Padres are one of them.

Not only is San Diego set to meet with Ohtani's camp, but the Friars appear to have a serious chance to land the 23-year-old, who doubles as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher and a slugging left-handed hitter.

Nationally, it qualifies as a bit of a surprise that the Padres find themselves at the forefront of the Ohtani discussion. Leading up to free agency, big-market clubs like the Yankees dominated the discussion.

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Still, there were always a number of reasons Ohtani and the Padres had potential to be a match. Here are four factors that could sway Ohtani toward San Diego ahead of his Dec. 22 deadline to make a decision.

1. Two-way opportunity

In March, the Padres converted , a life-long catcher, into a reliever/catcher/pinch-hitter hybrid. Bethancourt made the Opening Day roster in that capacity, though he was quickly sent to the Minors to work on his pitching mechanics.

Nonetheless, the Padres, as an organization, have clearly proven themselves open-minded enough to embrace the challenges of harboring a two-way player. And while that might seem easy with a talent like Ohtani, San Diego is one of the few clubs that has already waded through the logistical challenges -- even something as small as balancing batting practice and bullpen sessions.

"It really comes down to the individual, and it takes a special individual," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said last month. "But again, in our organization, you never want to say that something's not possible."

In short, San Diego was open to the concept well before Ohtani became available. Other clubs will talk the talk, regarding their plans for Ohtani. In one sense, the Padres have already walked the walk.

2. Padres connections

In the past 48 hours, San Diego's connections to Ohtani have been rehashed ad nauseum. Speaking on MLB Network on Monday night, Preller was quick to note he felt some of that chatter might be a bit "overblown."

Still, the Ohtani recruitment is unlike any free-agent saga in recent memory. Nobody seems to know which factors could prove decisive in his decision-making process.

So it certainly doesn't hurt the Padres' chances that they employ Japanese baseball icons Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito in their front office. Or that Seiichiro Nakagaki, Ohtani's trainer with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, currently serves as San Diego's director of sports science. Or that until last season the Padres had a deal in place that allowed the Fighters to train at their Spring Training complex in Peoria, Ariz. And did we mention that San Diego skipper Andy Green played for the Fighters in 2007?

3. State of the organization

When Ohtani enters the Major Leagues next season, he'll do so on a rookie-level contract, meaning San Diego will have six years of team control. In the short-term, the Padres -- coming off 94- and 91-loss seasons -- aren't title contenders.

In a strange way, that could prove beneficial. Other clubs might not be willing to take a hit to their playoff chances if Ohtani struggles at the plate. San Diego, meanwhile, can afford to let Ohtani slump on offense -- and then grow from those struggles.

The Padres must then convince Ohtani they'll be competitive in the five seasons following 2018. In that regard, Preller will tout one of the Majors' best farm systems. Plus, there's a measure of stability in San Diego. Preller and Green recently received three-year extensions, and only three players on the 40-man roster are eligible for free agency before 2020.

The pieces are in place for a bright future in San Diego, Preller will surely point out. Then, he'll be certain to add that a player of Ohtani's caliber could nudge the Padres over the top.

4. Geography

Yankees GM Brian Cashman, speaking Sunday after news broke that Ohtani had declined New York's offer, said: "I can't change that we're a big market, and I can't change that we're in the east."

The Padres, of course, are not in the east, nor do they play in a big market. And while Cashman's words aren't gospel, Ohtani does appear to have a clear preference for the West Coast. Among his seven reported suitors, only the Rangers and Cubs are located outside the Pacific time zone.

Ohtani's camp has been tight-lipped throughout about the process. It's unclear which -- if any -- of these factors could play a role. But, for now, San Diego is very much alive in its pursuit of Ohtani. That's more than 23 other teams can say.