ARLINGTON -- The field for Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani has narrowed, and the Rangers are in the thick of it.In fact, the Rangers are hoping to win the race, pay the $20 million posting fee and sign a 23-year-old phenom, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who can hit 100-102 mph with
ARLINGTON -- The field for Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani has narrowed, and the Rangers are in the thick of it.
In fact, the Rangers are hoping to win the race, pay the $20 million posting fee and sign a 23-year-old phenom, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who can hit 100-102 mph with his fastball and a left-handed-hitting prodigy with serious power. He is known as the Japanese Babe Ruth and has created much speculation about being a two-way player in the United States.
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Signing Ohtani under the parameters set forth in the recent working agreement between Major League Baseball and Japan would give the Rangers a serious boost in building a contender.
Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, sent a memo to all 30 clubs seeking information on why his client will best fit in their respective markets. Here are eight reasons why the Rangers would be a great fit.
1. Prize money
The Rangers have $3.535 million to spend in international bonus money. The Mariners, always a factor with Japanese players, have $1.57 million to spend, while the Dodgers are limited to $300,000. Money is not likely to be the deciding factor, but the Rangers do have a slight advantage.
2. Winning situation
The Rangers aren't going to be anybody's favorites to win the World Series next year, and they have a monumental task in competing with the Astros in the American League West. But this is a franchise that, despite this past season, has a strong identity of success, is always willing to be aggressive in trading Minor League prospects for pennant-race reinforcements and has a potentially talented offense that could rise quickly with the right pitching acquisitions.
3. Powerful ground force
This may be the Rangers' best asset. The Rangers have a strong presence in Japan led by top scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe. Pro scouting director Josh Boyd also has well-established credentials in Japan, general manager Jon Daniels has made multiple visits to the country and the Rangers made a serious run at Ohtani when he was in high school. High-profile players and former players like Ivan Rodriguez, Michael Young, Darren Oliver, Colby Lewis, Cole Hamels and Adrian Beltre can also be enlisted in the sales force. The Rangers, having established their deep appreciation for players from Japan, are well-positioned for a full-court recruiting press.
4. Two-pitcher parlay
The Rangers seem to have the ability to sign both Ohtani and Yu Darvish, who is also a free agent. They have the financial flexibility, and they have two immediate openings in the rotation. The question is if the two Japanese superstars truly do want to play together and share the spotlight, and if Darvish does want to return to Texas after the myriad mixed signals he sent at the end of last season.
5. New ballpark coming
No free-agent discussion is complete without mentioning the Texas summer heat, but the Rangers will be moving into a new ballpark in 2020, including a retractable roof and climate control. Ohtani also might figure out that the Texas weather means a warm, comfortable April and May, rather than cold and wet conditions elsewhere.
6. Favorable DH situation
The Rangers have a designated hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, but he is not interested in the role on a full-time basis. The answer could be a shared arrangement with Ohtani being the designated hitter 1-2 times between starts and Choo in the outfield on those occasions. The Rangers need the pitcher, but have said they are willing to explore ways to use Ohtani's hitting talents.
7. Low-pressure system
Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States. But when it comes to intense media spotlight, it pales in comparison to much larger Los Angeles and Chicago. That might end up being a good thing for the Rangers. The Rangers had special rules for Darvish in dealing with the media to ease his burden. They have expertise in that regard and could help make Ohtani comfortable if he wants to pitch without excessive pressure and scrutiny.
8. Economic conditions
Texas has no state income tax and is among the top 10 states in the country as far as cost of living. That may not be a big deal for a young player who is willing to give up a larger payday two years down the road to jump to the Major Leagues now. But it is there.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.