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 …
- 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.
- 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.
- The Padres have Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito, also former Dodgers, in their front office.
- 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.
- 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.
- Padres manager Andy Green played for Hokkaido in 2007, so he knows something about Japanese baseball.
- 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.
- The Padres at least tried a two-way player last year (Christian Bethancourt, who attempted to pitch and catch), as Lin pointed out.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Padres. Odds to sign: 5-2.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.