A longtime MLB evaluator recently detailed all the time he has spent watching Shohei Ohtani. The days hanging out in Japan’s northern province, where Ohtani plays. The in-flight movie choices across the Pacific. The hours observing Ohtani’s pregame and in-game work.
The evaluator believes he has a good feel for the player and explained why he loves his habits and his demeanor. “He’s a good kid,” said the evaluator. “And he’s got a lot of internal confidence. He’s got some good cockiness to him.” In other words: competitive arrogance.
Given all that background, the evaluator was asked: What team do you think he chooses?
“I don’t have a clue,” he said, laughing.
The player who has been the most-discussed in the industry also continues to be baseball’s greatest mystery, which is why a lot of MLB teams devoted many hours through the Thanksgiving weekend shaping their responses to the questionnaire recently dispersed by Ohtani’s agent. Like college basketball recruiters given a chance to hang out in the living room of a five-star point guard, baseball executives have been trying to figure out what appeals to Ohtani.
He’s got a lot of options.
If Ohtani wants to team with the world’s greatest player: He would pick Mike Trout's Angels, whose trade with the Braves on Thursday marginally increased how much the team can offer him. He would immediately become one of the Angels’ best starting pitchers, and Mike Scioscia could bat him directly in front of Trout, or directly behind him. With Albert Pujols losing weight in this offseason in an effort to play more games at first base, Ohtani could be the Angels’ designated hitter on some of the days he’s not pitching.
If Ohtani wants a shot at being a crossover star like Derek Jeter: He would choose the Yankees and New York. Jeter was the last baseball player to fully exploit marketing possibilities, through Ford and other companies, and even folks who aren’t baseball fans know who Jeter is. If Ohtani went to New York and thrived, he could become the next face of baseball and make a financial killing -- and also be part of a franchise that has consistently posted one of the highest MLB payrolls for the past quarter-century.
And the left-handed hitting Ohtani would get to take aim at the cozy right-field dimensions in Yankee Stadium.
If Ohtani wants to join a core of talented young players with a chance to create a dynasty: He would join the Dodgers, the Astros, the Cubs, the Yankees or the Red Sox.
If he wants daily conversations with the smartest hitter in the world: He would choose the Reds and Joey Votto. Cincinnati’s first baseman is regarded as the Ted Williams of his generation, the Tony Gwynn of his generation, armed with a whole lot of knowledge and passion about the science of hitting.
If Ohtani has had a poster of Clayton Kershaw on his wall and has dreamed of teaming with the world’s best pitcher: He would choose the Dodgers. Kershaw is tied to L.A. for at least one more season, before the left-hander will have the choice of opting out of his next contract. Ohtani could hang out with Kershaw in the Dodgers’ dugout during games he doesn’t pitch.
The Dodgers came so close to winning the World Series a month ago, and L.A. could try to sell Ohtani on being the last necessary piece to a title after a wait of 30 years.
If Ohtani wants a multicultural city with an international feel and has a secret love of the Maple Leafs: He could choose the Blue Jays, and become one of Canada’s biggest sports stars.
If Ohtani wants to play with Yu Darvish: He could call Darvish, currently a free agent, and become part of a package deal. Some evaluators believe Ohtani would love to be a teammate of Darvish, who, like Ohtani, played for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
If he wants to regularly pepper the Green Monster: He would sign with the Red Sox. Ohtani’s swing is a natural opposite-field stroke, and given his strength and size, and with all due respect to the Babe Ruth of Japan, his approach is more Wade Boggs than Bambino.
If Ohtani wants to forge a legacy all his own: He would choose the Minnesota Twins, a team with so much payroll flexibility that they could easily afford to build around Ohtani.
If Ohtani wants to be on the ground floor for a big-market rebuild: He would choose the Phillies, a team with boatloads of money to spend, but in need of anchor talents.
If Ohtani wants to play in California but still be in a small market with as close to a normal off-field life as possible: He could choose to play with the Padres. This is why Gwynn loved San Diego. He wanted to do what he loved without having to concern himself with overwhelming trappings of celebrity.
If Ohtani wants all the benefits of New York and prefers to be the outright star of his team: Then maybe he signs with the Mets. Aaron Judge stands center stage in the Bronx, after all.
If Ohtani wants an immediate challenge with a little bit of extra cash: He would choose the Texas Rangers, who must contend with the champion Houston Astros and could initially offer Ohtani tens of thousands of dollars more than any other team. But nobody really thinks this decision will be about money, initially.
If Ohtani loves tailgating and bratwursts: He could sign with the Brewers, whose fans might be among the most loyal in the game.
Evaluators have been going through mental exercises about Ohtani for weeks and months, speculating about what he might do. Within the next few weeks, the mystery will finally reveal itself: The Ohtani lottery ticket will land somewhere, altering the course of a franchise.