The path to Major League Baseball has been established for two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, and he is expected to hit the market later this week after MLB owners approve the new posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball.
With that approval a slam dunk, Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, have started the process of narrowing down the teams the Babe Ruth of Japan will seriously consider. Balelo sent a memo to all 30 MLB teams asking them to provide details on the following (from the Los Angeles Times):
“An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter;
“Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities;
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“Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities;
“Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation;
“A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization;
“Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play;
“Relevant marketplace characteristics.”
An official with the Texas Rangers confirmed that they received the Ohtani/Balelo memo, and it is the club’s hope that they check many of the boxes for the 23-year-old.
Do they? Let’s explore.
Talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter
Ohtani is looking for teams that are willing to let him play outfield or designated hitter on days he isn’t pitching.
The Rangers haven’t shown their scouting report on either “talent,” though they covet him as a starting pitcher. They are intrigued by the hitting element, the athleticism, and the ways they could possibly deploy his bat beyond just interleague road games.
But take this to the bank: If Ohtani wants to hit and a team wants Ohtani, he will be told that he will be given a chance to hit. Once he recognizes the demands pitching every fifth day requires, he might understand the need to put his bat away.
Player development, medicals, etc.
The Rangers have drafted and helped produce major-league talent, but not all of those players have played for them.
Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Martin Perez, Alex Claudio and Keone Kela contributed in significant ways in 2017. Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland and Derek Holland were home-grown contributors during the World Series seasons.
Kinsler, Moreland, Holland, Chris Davis, Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Justin Grimm, Lewis Brinson, Luis Sardinas, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro were among the other former Rangers draftees/international signees who played in 2017 in the majors for other clubs.
(Apologies for other omissions.)
The Rangers have a local orthopedist (Dr. Keith Meister) and training/rehab facility (TMI Sports). Their training and medical staff have been in place for several seasons, so there is continuity. They have a sports psychologist and nutritionist.
There’s plenty for Ohtani to consider here as he deals with transitioning to pitching every fifth day.
MLB, minor, spring facilities
A clear advantage for the Rangers going forward, even if they aren’t sure where their Triple A team will be after 2018.
The Rangers can attach construction photos and renderings of Globe Life Field, the new retractable-roof ballpark that is scheduled to open in 2020, in their response. Ohtani will have to endure the Texas heat for only two summers across the street at Globe Life Park.
Even if the next Triple A affiliate ends up at a more remote locale than Round Rock, the Rangers can show Ohtani the Double A affiliate 30 minutes way in Frisco.
As far as spring complexes go, the Rangers’ is among the best. The clubhouse has been updated, the complex is functional, and Surprise, Ariz., is getting a Raising Cane’s.
Resources for cultural assimilation
Hopefully, the Rangers did their homework with Yu Darvish on this one and picked his brain over the years on what helped him come to love the DFW area.
Darvish has a house in Dallas and considers Dallas to be his home away from home.
Hopefully, Darvish has spoken fondly of the DFW area while working out with Ohtani in Japan. If not, there are a few Japan-America societies in the area, and the Fort Worth Japanese Garden.
Also, Rangers Hall of Famer Tom Schieffer is the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and might be able to relate to Ohtani on a level others in the organization can not.
Integrating into the organization
This is another clear strength for the Rangers after going through the process with Darvish.
They will hire an interpreter for Ohtani and possibly ask their scouts in Japan who could have a relationship with him to work with him in the U.S.
Just as was the case with Darvish’s arrival, Ohtani’s arrival will be a media circus. The Rangers have plenty of experience handling that.
The Rangers can turn to John Blake, their media relations chief, to ease the media burden that will come Ohtani’s way. Blake was in Boston when Daisuke Matsuzaka came from Japan in 2007 and with the Rangers when Darvish came in 2012.
A few Japanese media members said that the Rangers’ PR department did a much better job with Darvish than the Los Angeles Dodgers’ PR department did. True story: One of the regulars who covered Darvish even went so far as to say he missed Blake.
Players embraced Darvish in his first spring, as he dined out with Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. The players have changed, but the same thing would happen with Ohtani.
Why DFW/Rangers are desirable
Everything Ohtani could possibly want can be found here.
Good Japanese food? Not hard to find, though I drove past Mister Max the first time I went there with Japanese writers. All Japanese players go there.
Direct flights to Japan? They can be found at DFW Airport.
The heat? That’s why a new ballpark with a roof is being built.
Now the Rangers:
What about the transition from NPB to MLB? It’s a big deal, from travel to the new cities to the workload to the difference in baseballs. The Rangers went through it with Darvish, often building in extra rest his first few seasons to help him get through the season.
The 2017 season? Only their second since 2009 with a losing record.
What about the Houston Astros? With Ohtani, the Rangers will contend for the postseason in 2018.
What about 2019 and beyond? The free-agent market next year will be filled with premium talent, and the farm system should be able to start producing big-league help.
Relevant marketplace characteristics
The Rangers play in the fifth-largest media market in the country, and the club has averaged more than 30,000 fans per game the past eight seasons.
That’s a lot of potential eyeballs on Ohtani.
There are also a number of Japanese companies with U.S. bases in the DFW area, and some have relationships with the Rangers. That leaves open the possibility of endorsement deals for Ohtani, who might want to make up for some of the income he’s leaving on the table by coming to MLB now rather than in two years.
Do other teams have the edge on each box on the checklist? Sure, but the Rangers will stack up well when Ohtani considers the checklist in its entirety.