Japanese baseball superstar and soon-to-be MLB Rookie Of The Year favorite Shohei Ohtani is in the process of coming to America. Friday is the day that the new posting system put in place to create a more balanced international signing atmosphere is to be ratified. Ohtani will be eligible for only a minor league contract (and a moderate signing bonus, all designated to come from the teams international bonus pool) once the signing team posts the $20 million it would require to obtain his rights from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. With these new rules in place, the bidding is now open to nearly every team. Like never before, there is a chance for every team to sign the 23-year-old two-way player and create a possible surplus of value that hasn’t been seen since Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were rookies.
As previously stated, Ohtani is a two-way player, playing right field for Nippon-Ham on the days he doesn’t pitch. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, Ohtani is a rare mix of size and speed that makes scouts salivate. He has been clocked throwing 99 mph on his fastball and going home-to-first in 3.8 seconds. While the speed could easily remind a fan of Ichiro Suzuki, Ohtani brings the lumber and slashed .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 2016. To ink a player with Ohtani’s talents to a minor league deal with a modest signing bonus is along the lines of paying LeBron James the vet minimum.
To help Ohtani decide where to play, he and his agent have asked for a basic explainer as to why their team and city would be the right place for him. While crafting these memos, team front offices have to look at more than on the field talent. I wanted to think about the positives Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff would include in their pitch to Ohtani.
Overall makeup of the roster/organization
While there are holes on this roster made from the departure of Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw, this is a team that went to the World Series in 2016 and came one rain delay extra-inning game away from winning it all. This is a talented roster made up of already cemented superstars such as Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, and Edwin Encarnacion, as well as solid foundational pieces like Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Bradley Zimmer, and Roberto Perez. With players like Greg Allen, Tristan McKenzie, Bobby Bradley and Francisco Meija on the horizon as well, Ohtani would be playing for a perennial contender for almost the first decade of his MLB career.
On the face of it, the rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, and Mike Clevinger doesn’t need any extra depth, it has been proven time and again that you can never have too much pitching. Ohtani would not be asked to do too much right away, possibly starting every fifth day, something Japanese pitchers are more accustomed to doing. The extra time off would allow for Ohtani to play in the field more while learning the major league game of pitching, and once the inevitable injury crops up, he can slot in to fill a more traditional role of the fifth starter.
The Cleveland outfield is far from a set game plan. Bradley Zimmer will return from a broken hand to patrol centerfield, but after that the pieces get murky. Will Michael Brantley play first base or left field? Does Terry Francona keep Ramirez at second base, pushing Jason Kipnis to the outfield? Lonnie Chisenhall had a great-but-injury-filled 2017, but is only around for one more year, barring an extension. Ohtani playing right field three to four times a week with Chisenhall or Brandon Guyer spelling him makes some sense and keeps Ohtani from getting overwhelmed with the pressure of a full-time spot. Let’s not forget all those David Robertson/Collin Cowgill/Abraham Almonte at-bats we saw in 2016-2017, and now imagine someone with Ohtani’s ability taking those reps.
While I have been critical of Tito Francona in the past, there is no question of his ability as a manager. He has two rings, almost a third, and has been successful in every stop he has been at in his managerial tenure. Francona routinely gets more out of every roster spot than almost any other manager, utilizing his role players to the best of their abilities. A pairing of Ohtani and Francona would be the best described as baseball porn for those who love position player pitching and in-game substitutions.
Cleveland the city is aching for a winner, and the crowds at Indians games have gone up exorbitantly every year since Francona has taken over as manager. True Indians fans are as diehard as they come, and when a team comes together, they pull with every fiber of their collective being. If you’ve never been to a late season or playoff game, the feeling in the town and stadium is electric. New and improved dining in the downtown and surrounding areas make it a “go to” spot for locals. With the Browns being the Browns and the possibility of LeBron leaving in a year, Ohtani has the chance to the third biggest star in a city (Frankie Lindor and JRam the GOAT rank higher, c’mon) that loves its stars.
It remains to be seen where Ohtani is going to land. No one has any idea of his leanings, something that is rare when you consider most moves that happen in MLB can be predicted before the offseason begins. Whoever signs Ohtani will be getting a superstar and Cleveland could easily be on the top of the list for the “Japanese Babe Ruth.”