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Heyman | The surprising favorite to land Shohei Ohtani

Sep 20, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; A detailed view of a baseball sitting atop the mound as the San Diego Padres relievers make their way to the bullpen before the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so many of us in the media were wrong about the Yankees’ chances to sign two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. We have re-evaluated now, and are judging just how wrong we were. We were so wrong that the favorite just may be the team that is the most anti-Yankees.

That, in my estimation, is the San Diego Padres.

The Padres are the team that is farthest from New York, in terms of distance, history, city atmosphere and just about everything else, too.

We are all just reading tea leaves at this point, but a few small snippets of explanation leaked out with the seven final teams – the Mariners, Giants, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers and Cubs, in addition to the Padres – and the knowledge of those lucky seven teams may provide more clues. Yankees GM Brian Cashman, the leader of the former favorite, mentioned to Yankees writers that he got a “sense” that a smaller-market team on the West Coast is the believed-to-be preference.

Bingo. That’s San Diego.

But while that kind of logic on my part is only barely better than guessing — and Ohtani’s representatives at CAA are conducting business in radio silence so there are no reliable English-speaking sources on this — there are what one keen baseball observer called “bread crumbs” to San Diego.

Here are a few them …

  1. Top Padres executives Logan White and Acey Kohrogi were part of a Dodgers contingent that tried hard to sign Ohtani as a teenager a half-decade ago, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out in this piece.
  2. Padres GM A.J. Preller, who just got a three-year extension, has been on top of the Ohtani sweepstakes from the start, even if he/they have stayed out of the press. Preller prefers stealth pursuits (he and Padres people still haven’t responded to many, many texts since FanRag Sports first reported the Padres made the finals even Sunday night), and at this point it’s clear that this has been one.
  3. The Padres have Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito, also former Dodgers, in their front office.
  4. They employ Seiichiro Nakagaki, a former Nippon-Ham Fighters trainer, according to Lin’s story. (This could be considered coincidence, or maybe it’s just thinking ahead.
  5. Ohtani trained at the Padres’ Peoria, Ariz., spring site the past two years with Nippon, as Joel Sherman of MLB Network and the New York Post pointed out. (Who knows, maybe he took a liking to what goes around on Bell Road; it seems rather nondescript to me, but there is an In-n-Out Burger within a quarter mile of the complex, and several other top-notch fast-food offerings, on Bell.
  6. Padres manager Andy Green played for Hokkaido in 2007, so he knows something about Japanese baseball.
  7. The Padres have no current Japanese stars on their roster. A couple people who have some familiarity with Ohtani’s thinking have suggested they believe he’d prefer a team without holdover Japanese stars – though that doesn’t seem to be a major consideration, and others around him say they haven’t even heard anything of such talk.
  8. The Padres at least tried a two-way player last year (Christian Bethancourt, who attempted to pitch and catch), as Lin pointed out.
  9. As a team not expected to contend in 2018 perhaps, the Padres will have about the best opportunity of all the finalists to give Ohtani’s two-way dream a full chance.
  10. The Padres would seem to have a decent future, if not present, due to many great prospects (they are ranked behind the White Sox and Braves but not that far behind).
  11. San Diego really is a small town (one of the smallest in the bigs and the smallest one remaining), and obviously it is quite nice unless you don’t like sunshine, beaches and exquisite terrain.
  12. PETCO Park leans toward a pitcher’s park, and pitching is seen as Ohtani’s “calling card” (the word of one interested GM), though of course Ohtani’s main thing is that he is a two-way player.
  13. While the Padres are one of only three teams with only the minimum $300,000 to give Ohtani as a bonus (Dodgers and Cubs are the others), he may legitimately be the first known case of a player who cares not a whit about money. Let’s not forget, he could simply wait two years and almost surely win a $200 million free-agent contract as a 25-year-old.
  14. His main agent at CAA, Nez Balelo, is from Point Loma, outside San Diego. (Ok, this probably isn’t at the top of his list. Or mine.)

So we are now establishing the Padres as the new and real favorite. Of course, who knows?

It’s all up to the 23-year-old video-playing uber talent (and it is his call; he even declined the suggestions of his reps at CAA’s suggestion to at least consider the Yankees, who offer the best marketing opportunities).

Here are some thoughts of the rest of the whole field, in new order of my guesses. (In other words, I basically flipped my previous list.)

  1. Padres. Odds to sign: 5-2.
  2. Mariners. GM Jerry Dipoto is said to have made Ohtani his obsession, and a Dipoto associate says he “could sell ice to an Eskimo.” In this case, while it’s cooler (and rainier) than San Diego, there’s a lot to like, including: the history of success with Japanese players (Ichiro, Kazuhiro Sasaki); they are on the West Coast; also train in Peoria (all seven remaining teams train in Arizona); no current Japanese player is on their roster, if that really matters (Hisashi Iwakuma is on a minors deal, and it’s iffy whether he’ll make it back); and the possibility to DH if Nelson Cruz can play some right field and that even matters (though it may not since four of the seven finalists are NL teams). Odds to sign: 3-1.
  3. Angels. While they claim to be in Los Angeles, they are actually in Orange County which is a lot more low key, and Anaheim is downright sleepy, not to mention a place kids love (Ohtani is a virtual kid at 23), he could DH there and also team with Mike Trout, which would be pretty darned cool Odds to sign: 7-1.
  4. Rangers. Texas has made its big push clear forever, Yu Darvish had a very good experience there, they have the most money to offer for a bonus ($3.53M) and more than a $1 million more than any of the finalists if he cares (he may not), they can employ him as a DH and technically Arlington, Texas, is the smallest city that houses an MLB team, so long as they don’t mention it’s part of the Metroplex, which sounds a lot bigger, though they are one of only two teams remaining that isn’t on the obviously preferred West Coast. Odds to sign: 9-1.
  5. Cubs. The Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office seems to find a way, the Cubs are beloved internationally (if that matters; it might not since the Yankees are gone), they have a very good recent history of using players in multiple positions (even if pitcher isn’t one of those positions) and there are great marketing opportunities there (if he cares), though they are the only team east of the Mississippi and have only the minimum 300K to give him as a bonus Odds to sign: 10-1.
  6. Dodgers. They have perhaps the best and longest history of success with Japanese players (including Nomo), they tried to signed him a half-decade ago (even if some of those execs are currently in San Diego), bring great marketing opportunities — though they have just that minimum 300K bonus money left — and also are in a region that may appeal to him – though some suggest they are a long shot. Odds to sign: 12-1.
  7. Giants. While like the Dodgers they are clearly not a small-market team, they also should appeal as a region, are well-known as a first-class organization with a great recent history of success with young pitchers and also have an opening in right field, unless of course Giancarlo Stanton approves a trade there. Odds to sign: 15-1.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Wez

    Dec 5, 2017 at 3:51 am

    I was under the impression that he wants to pitch as well as bat..? If so, why would he consider an AL team?

    • Chris Lee

      Dec 5, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Because the AL has the DH and Ohtani can DH and since the AL has the DH, it gives Ohtani more at bats

  2. Thai

    Dec 5, 2017 at 2:12 am

    This has got to be one of the sloppiest and lazily-written articles I’ve ever read on a major media outlet. Just as he acknowledged, Heyman has no clue what is going on with his piggy-backing off of the NY media proclaiming that the Yankees were the favorite. I’m a Dodgers fan, so I’m probably biased, but it will come down to either (the real) Los Angeles or Seattle with the Mariners being the current favorite.

    Seattle offers a Pacific Northwest setting that resembles his Japanese hometown the closest of the remaining cities along with the opportunity to be the face of an MLB franchise in following in the footsteps of his idol Ichiro Suzuki. The Dodgers, on the other hand, offer the most resources and opportunities for him to become the best player he could be since that was the point of him coming over to play in MLB in the first place.

    I could elaborate further but why bother if people are willing to accept this article as legitimate reporting or even suitable entertainment.

  3. Andrew

    Dec 4, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    It would take less than 5 minutes of searching on the internet to know that Point Loma is a neighborhood in San Diego and not “outside” San Diego.

  4. Rob

    Dec 4, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    How is San Deigo the smallest city left and one of the smallest in MLB? In fact, they are the 2nd largest city left (behind LA), and 8th largest city in America

    • Jack

      Dec 4, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      That was a fairly glaring mistake to me as well. I believe Chicago is bigger than San Diego, though. Regardless, Seattle, Arlington, and even Anaheim technically are all smaller cities than San Diego. Not sure what sort of measurement Jon is using here.

  5. Ron Blair

    Dec 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Hey Jon, loved the article ….and the parentheses had me laughing, because it is all conjecture at this point. SFG fan for over 50 yrs. I like the idea of a smaller franchise getting a shot, not just the perennials. Pads and Mariners good destinations.

  6. Brad

    Dec 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    If that’s the case he not only doesn’t care about money but he doesnt care about never winning as well.

  7. Mick

    Dec 4, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Jon, I usually like your reporting, but this is almost unreadable with the incessant parentheticals, there’s a number of editing errors, and you said that both SD and Arlington are the smallest cities with an MLB team.

    • Lorenzo

      Dec 4, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      You have to cut Jon some slack – this is the mother of all parenthetical stories! Everybody involved is doing a Sgt. Schultz impression, leaving writers with nothing to work with.

      It would be funny if the In-N-Out burger chain was the tie-breaker. As one Padres
      fan pointed out, there’s one just 6 miles from Petco, but there’s none in the Pacific Northwest.

  8. Alex

    Dec 4, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Yankee fan here, rooting for San Diego. They deserve some excitement over there!

    • Lorenzo

      Dec 5, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Excitement in San Diego? Let’s see, the previous owner, John Moores, got into a nasty divorce and washed his hands of the team putting Sandy Alderson in charge; Alderson chased our manager Bruce Bochy away, as well as Trevor Hoffman, only to have Moores sell the club on the installment plan to Jeff Moorad, who bounced the longtime GM Kevin towers for ex-Boston exec, who bolted to Chicago when his old Boston boss took over the Cubs.

      Then Moorad was nixed as majority owner and the team was put up for sale and bought by the sons of former Dodgers co-owners Peter O’Malley and his sister Terry Seidler, in the process giving Moores $200 million paid by Fox Sports. They followed up with firing Moorad’s GM and hiring A.J. Preller who stripped the farm to bring in veterans for a failed attempt to win.

      Then Preller traded the veterans for prospects, and used the new owners’ open checkbook to restock the farm with international players, incurring $37 million in penalties for going way beyong the money limits, and got himself suspended for keeping sketchy medical records. Along the way, the CEO he answered to got fired along with another longtime exec who was the Padres GM during their 1990s fire sale.

      You can keep the excitement, thank you. Padres fans would like a bit of stability about now. It would be nice if Ohtani could help those recent prospects who now consitute the youngest team in MLB to win a few more games, but excitement is something Padres fans don’t need, unless it’s the excitement of winning.

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