Reds went to great lengths to woo Ohtani
Cincinnati wasn't a finalist for new Angels star despite impressive presentation
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Reds did not land Shohei Ohtani, or make the cut of seven finalists, before the Japanese two-way sensation decided to play for the Angels. But it wasn't for a lack of effort from Cincinnati, which made an all-out pursuit.
"All we knew was we wanted our [presentation] to be something we were proud of and as representative as we could. We put a lot of time into it," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "We kind of felt like we were doing this for the whole city. We really wanted nothing more than to shock the world."
Because of their international signing pool limit, the Reds could offer Ohtani only $300,000 for a bonus. But he was subject to stricter posting rules than other Japanese free agents because he was under 25 years old. He was able to be signed to a traditional Minor League contract and earn the regular six years of service time before Major League free agency.
A meeting with the Reds' newest scout of Asia and the Pacific Rim, Rob Fidler, in September let the team know that Ohtani was more than a realistic target for Cincinnati.
"He said, 'You're going to think this is totally crazy, but I believe we should just be ready to watch this situation unfold. I'm hearing that this kid may come out now,'" Williams said of the conversation with Fidler. "He said, 'I'd like us to think that we might have a chance. I've followed this kid. I think he's wired differently. He's clearly shown he thinks out of the box.'"
To accomplish what ultimately was its unrealized goal, the Reds' baseball operations department combined forces with the business side and the creative services and marketing departments on the Ohtani project that commenced immediately.
In early October, Williams went to Sapporo, Japan, to watch Ohtani pitch a complete game in his final appearance for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
"[I was] anticipating that if we ever meet with him, it'd be important to say that I made the effort and that I was there in person," Williams said. "We felt like that was the price of admission to even being considered down the road, to say we put forth that effort."
Back in Cincinnati, baseball operations director Eric Lee oversaw the presentation. In a beautifully produced multimedia proposal that tried to appeal to Ohtani's senses as a player and person, one book opened to an iPad that played a 12-minute video. Another book, over 120 pages, provided great detail of what Ohtani could achieve in Cincinnati, with chapters that highlighted the history of the franchise, the city, team facilities, its leadership group, the opportunity to play, the team's operating and roster plan and its financial resources.
"We'd be emailing the presentation and they'd send it to me at 10 o'clock at night. I'd work on it for a couple hours and I'd send them comments at midnight," Williams said. "As it got closer and we knew we were going to have to send something, we really ramped it up."
The video opened with the Reds winning the 1975 World Series over the Red Sox in Game 7 after overcoming Carlton Fisk's iconic Game 6 walk-off home run. Made by a local production company, it then included imagery that any chamber of commerce would envy -- showing the beauty of Cincinnati, its people, Great American Ball Park and more.
What followed was a detailed plan for Ohtani, and how he would fit with the Reds, and it featured testimonials from Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, first baseman Joey Votto, manager Bryan Price and Williams.
The plan for Ohtani had him pitching once a week in a six-man rotation and playing the outfield and getting pinch-hit at-bats.
Williams and Lee both showed the video and book made for Ohtani and his agents -- produced in both English and Japanese -- to MLB.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer. But it was done with the agreement that no proprietary information would be revealed.
Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, sent a memo to all 30 clubs in the last week of November and requested information about Minor League development, scouting, the training and medical staff, Spring Training facilities and background information about the city.
The Reds already had that mission accomplished before Ohtani officially was posted on Dec. 1.
"There was no way to produce all of this after the memo came out," Williams said. "We had it in his hands days after that memo came out. What we felt good about is we felt we anticipated every question they had."
Still, the Reds came up short. The disappointment was palpable and the club worked to get an interview with Ohtani after being told they were out.
"We tried a few things. Didn't work," Williams said. "Those of us close to it that worked on it convinced ourselves that we had a very good case. We really wanted him to hear it and feel the same way we did."