Overall, this offseason is not all that exciting around baseball, as the free agents available are largely good but not great. The class of 2018, coming next winter, is the big one that we’ve all been anticipating for years. That being said, this winter does include Shohei Ohtani, who is in the conversation for being the most interesting free agent in history. He can’t be offered much money due to international signing rules, so this process comes down to college-style recruiting. Oh, and there’s also the fact that he’s a legitimate two-way threat who could serve that same role in the majors. He and his representatives recently sent a memo around the league asking for them to provide examples of what they can provide for the Japanese superstar. Below is a fuller description of the “assignment,” via the Associated Press.
Balelo’s memo asks for a team to evaluate Ohtani’s talent as a pitcher and as a hitter; to explain its player development, medical training and player performance philosophies and facilities; to describe its minor league and spring training facilities; to detail resources for Ohtani’s cultural assimilation into the team’s city; to demonstrate a vision for how Ohtani could integrate into the team’s organization; and to tell Ohtani why the team is a desirable place to play.
Each team was asked to provide its answers in both languages as soon as possible. Clubs were told not to include any financial terms of a possible contract.
The Red Sox are towards the bottom of the league in terms of how much money they have remaining in their international signing pool, so it’s fortunate that financial terms will not be included here. Since Ohtani could make an almost unfathomably large sum of money if he were to wait two years before coming over, it stands to reason that money isn’t at the top of his priority list anyway. So, if that’s off the table, what else can the Red Sox offer the star?
The ability to be a two-way player
No one really knows what the primary motivation for Ohtani will be when deciding on a new team, but there has been speculation that the ability to play two ways is going to be a big factor. The Red Sox have an advantage over half of the league since they can slot Ohtani at DH. The logic is that teams will not want him in the field when he’s not pitching in order to preserve his arm. Boston could feasibly put Hanley Ramirez back at first base and give Ohtani the DH slot three or four times a week when he’s not on the mound. This, of course, places some faith in Ramirez’ ability to play defense, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take for a talent like Ohtani. In the rotation, Boston could either let the injuries sort themselves out of make a trade. Either way, finding room for the star in the rotation wouldn’t be all that difficult.
A top-notch baseball city
To be honest, I kind of hate this kind of argument because I think it gets overblown around Boston and the Northeast in general. Every fan likes to think their city is the best, and Boston is no different. That being said, there’s no question that the Red Sox are one of the most storied franchises in the league and the city has built a reputation for having a rabid fanbase. Obviously, this is not always a good thing, but if Ohtani is looking for a historic park, big crowds and media attention, Fenway is one of the top landing spots.
As we’ve mentioned, Ohtani won’t be making much money (relatively speaking) off whatever deal he ends up signing to come to the States. Although that may not be a priority for him, everyone would like a little more money. For someone as hyped and talented as him, endorsements are a great place to make up for some of that cash. Baseball players don’t get the same kind of endorsement deals they used to, but if you are looking for that there are only a few places where your star will shine brighter than Boston. There are a few cities that can offer as much or more of an endorsement opportunity than Boston, but the Red Sox would be near the top of the list in this respect.
A young, up-and-coming team
Ohtani is an established star over in Japan, so it’s easy to forget that the slugger/ace is only 23 and won’t turn 24 until July. That means whoever signs him could feasibly see him as a face of their franchise for the next 15 years. If winning is important to Ohtani, he is at an age where an organization’s future is just as important as its present-day success. The Red Sox are in an outstanding position here, as they are back-to-back division champs and have a core that should compete for a long time. Ohtani could look at this roster and envision competing with players like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. for the next ten-plus years.
Respected veteran rotation mates
It’s not just the young position players that could make someone like Ohtani excited, either. While his slugging ability is enticing, it’s his talents on the mound that have teams really excited. The Red Sox have a couple of strong presences in their rotation that could help ease his transition to the new league. Chris Sale is one of the most talented pitchers in the league, of course, and has already shown an ability to take young pitchers under his wing by training with Jason Groome this winter. David Price, meanwhile, may have had some controversy this past summer but he’s never been known as anything but a mentor and tremendous teammate.
The opportunity for a payday later
So, technically the Red Sox can’t discuss this with Ohtani right now as it would be a violation of international signing rules. However, there are ways to be creative and mention it without really mentioning it. While Ohtani’s initial signing bonus won’t be large, it won’t be long until he can start negotiating a longer-term extension with his new team. The Red Sox have deep pockets and can always compete with just about any team in baseball when it comes down to money. They have more than that to offer, as discussed above, but at the end of the day they can always just wave that checkbook around, too. This time, they just need to do so discretely.