The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have begun and the finalists have already been named. The Japanese Two-Way sensation has until December 22nd to sign a contract with his new club and recruitment pitches will be heard from the seven organizations in the mix in the next week or so.
While stressing that it was a long shot to begin with, White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn confirmed last week that the organization was interested in Ohtani and specified that they sent in a presentation to his representatives. On Sunday, news started to trickle out in regards to the Ohtani finalists and which teams were eliminated from the process. The White Sox are one of the 23 teams that won’t be given the opportunity to woo the former Nippon star in person.
The Chicago #WhiteSox are also out on Ohtani
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 4, 2017
It is pretty apparent that Ohtani has a fondness for the west coast as The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers are the only finalists that don’t reside in that geographical region of the country. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners all share the common theme of being on the left coast. Anyone that says they know exactly what Ohtani wants to do is just speculating at this juncture and the speculation has been rampant.
It’s been reported that Ohtani wants to be able to hit and pitch in the majors. It’s been reported that he’d prefer to play in a smaller market with less media scrutiny. It’s also been reported that he doesn’t want to be on the east coast and that he’d prefer to play on a team devoid of other Japanese stars. Some of that may be true. We really don’t know though. What is evident is that the list has been condensed down in short order and the recruitment will now commence.
The American League seems like the appropriate landing spot for the athletic right-hander but to much surprise, there are four National League clubs on the final list.
The New York Yankees were prominently mentioned in conjunction with Ohtani during the off-season and the lead up to his official posting but the Bronx Bombers were quickly informed of their elimination. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman even said, “I did get a sense that I can’t change that we’re a big market and I can’t change that we’re in the East. That was something that, presentation or not, might be difficult to overcome.”
In looking at some of the finalists, it seems as if market size has less to do with the equation than geography does. The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers are large markets but neither are quite as far as New York.
As far as a favorite for the tantalizing talent from abroad, baseball writers and front office people have mixed feelings. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted that the Mariners were the “clear-cut front runners” according to multiple MLB GM’s. In his column today, Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports pegged the small market San Diego Padres as the favorites and provided a synopsis of reasons for optimism. The Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers all have a history of assimilating Japanese players into their cities. The San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels and Padres all reside on the reportedly preferential west coast.
While we don’t know exactly what the biggest factor will be in Ohtani choosing a new home, it has been proven that money isn’t the top priority. By deciding to bring his talents to the states now, he’s bypassing the chance at making hundreds of millions of dollars early in his career. Ohtani is said to be weighing factors like market size, playing time, facilities and medical staff much more prevalent than initial contract value.
With that being said, the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Padres are limited to paying Ohtani a paltry $300,000 for his signing bonus. The Rangers currently have $3.53 million to offer but can trade for an additional $1.5 million for a total of roughly $5 million. The Mariners and Angels can offer $1.57 million and $1.315 million respectively. Both of those clubs can also look to acquire more international bonus space and max out around $3.5 million. It’s not likely that $3 million will be the deciding factor at this point but the difference between $300,000 and $3 million is quite staggering.
How Can This Benefit the White Sox?
As a large market club, the Chicago White Sox are provided an international bonus pool of $4.75 million. On July 2nd of this year, the club quickly inked $300,000 deals with catcher Jefferson Mendoza and Dominican infielder Sydney Pimentel. Those are the organizations only known international expenditures for the current period.
The White Sox are in year 1 of the penalty phase after going over their allotted budget to reach agreement with Luis Robert and cannot sign any international amateurs for more than $300K. After trading some of their international bonus pool space to Texas, Arizona, and Seattle, the club is sitting with roughly $1.1 million left to use. They could have some of those dollars committed already but the remainder can be used in trades until June 15th. It’s feasible that the Sox could use some of their space to help another club reel in the biggest fish on the market while adding to their deep prospect inventory in the process.
The front office has done a masterful job to this point of adding talent (Yeyson Yrizarri, Ryan Burr, and Thyago Vieira) in exchange for resources that were of no fiscal use to them. I have no reason to believe that the team won’t continue to do so and this should be something to watch over the next couple weeks.