But among the few teams that the 23-year-old Japanese native is willing to consider is the Chicago Cubs – a move that still shocks me, even though there’s really nothing about the whole Ohtani process that ought to be considered predictable.
OHTANI, FOR THOSE not in the know, is the star of the Nippon Ham Fighters of Fukuoka who now wants to take a crack at playing professionally in the United States (a move that, if it works out, will result in Ohtani making many millions of dollars more in coming years than he would playing ball in Japan).
What makes Ohtani different from all the other Japanese ballplayers who have come to this country during the past two decades is that Ohtani is a pitcher who also is capable of hitting. A move that the Nippon Ham ballclub has indulged him in, and one that Ohtani has said he expects any U.S. team he plays for to do as well.
As I understand things, the list of ball clubs that Ohtani is interested in considering are all the teams along the West Coast (except for Oakland, Calif.). Although he’s also willing to contemplate the Texas Rangers, and our very own Cubbies.
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Under the rules that exist in which U.S. ball clubs are limited as to the amount of money they can spend on trying to acquire foreign talent, the Rangers are the team that could actually offer Ohtani the largest salary.
WHEREAS CUBS MANAGER Joe Maddon has enough of a reputation for screwball on-field tactics that perhaps Ohtani feels he’d get the least bit of resistance pitching and hitting for the Cubs than he would any other team.
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It certainly wouldn’t be because of the money. Those rules in place would limit the Cubs to a $300,000 bonus they could offer Ohtani for signing with them. Which would be the same amount the Chicago White Sox could have offered.
But the White Sox have blown much of their international money on acquiring Cuban talent. Perhaps that made the White Sox seem a little too foreign to a Japanese kid. Although perhaps it means the Sox will be the team of choice amongst the Havana baseball set?
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How much would the Cubs – a team that still thinks it’s a legitimate contender for a National League championship following their 2016 success, even though they fell short in 2017 – be willing to muck up the structure of their team just to accommodate Ohtani?
THEN AGAIN, WITH the Cubs expecting to lose pitcher Jake Arrieta, perhaps they think Ohtani is his replacement in the starting rotation – while also serving as a spare outfielder.
It will be curious to see if Ohtani is capable of pulling off his double duties of pitching and hitting. Considering that most pitchers stink with a bat and that American League teams don’t even let their pitchers touch lumber (they have the designated hitter), it will be a radical move.
Consider that even the great Babe Ruth (whose name is repeatedly brought up by people discussing Ohtani) ultimately gave up pitching so he could focus on being the big bat in the Yankees lineup. Is Ohtani really unique enough to pull off this move? Or will Ted Radcliffe of the old Negro league Chicago American Giants, who was both pitcher and catcher, retain the uniqueness that gave him the nickname “Double Duty?”
Will we wind up seeing him make a decision come June to focus on one side, or the other, of baseball?
THERE IS ONE aspect I’m pondering about the whole Ohtani affair. Many have speculated that because of the designated hitter, he’d be better off playing for an American League team.
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Yet I’m wondering now with Ohtani having openly snubbed the Yankees, if he winds up playing for another American League team (Seattle or the Los Angeles Angels?), will he wind up receiving the ultimate razzing from the ballpark boo-birds if he shows up at Yankee Stadium.
He could wind up receiving equally hostile reactions from Oakland fans who would be disappointed that they were the one West Coast team he wants nothing to do with. Or the Boston Red Sox faithful who, while enjoying the Yankee snub, probably resent that he doesn’t think they were worthy.
Or, for that matter, the White Sox, whose fans may wonder why this young punk ballplayer would consider the Cubs, and not them, particularly since neither team is capable of offering him much in the way of money. Ohtani may wind up being better off playing in the National League, as he’s likely offended too many American League people.