Sho Time: Could The Twins Really Land Ohtani?
By all accounts, Ohtani is adamant about carrying on his legacy as a two-way player in the United States. Given his position of leverage in negotiations, he can make that a hard-line demand if he wishes, and plenty of teams will be ready to meet it.
Sure, he'd be able to bat during starts and maybe draw semi-regular pinch-hitting appearances with a National League club. But is he looking for something more? The ability to start at DH a few times between his turns on the mound? That would be an AL-only option.
Would the Twins be amenable to such an arrangement? Thad Levine says so. "I think we'd let him do whatever he damn well pleases," the Minnesota GM half-joked recently. And why not? His team is almost uniquely positioned to accommodate Ohtani. The Twins used the DH role as a rotating post in 2017 and could do so again next year.
One thing that would typically hold a team back from being open to such usage is risk factor -- it's hard to justify exposing a young pitcher to such added injury hazard, and deviation in standard routine, when you're committed for $20-30 million per year long-term. But given the low up-front financial commitment for Ohtani, clubs like the Twins figure to be more open-minded.
Speaking of finances, here's another area where Minnesota gains a relative edge:
By recently voiding their $3 million offer to Dominican infielder Jelfry Marte over a vision issue, the Twins bolstered their international pool. As things stand, only the Rangers or Yankees would be able to offer more, and not by much.
On one hand, this isn't such a big deal. Ohtani could sign with a team other than those three, and while his bonus would be smaller, it's a pittance relative to what he figures to earn down the line and through endorsements. Then again, nothing in this life is guaranteed. The 23-year-old made about $2 million in annual salary while in Japan, so he has yet to really hit the jackpot and now he'll have to wait a while under MLB's service clock rules. Minnesota's ability to offer almost $2 million more up-front than, say, Seattle (said to be making a full-court press for Ohtani) could hold some serious weight.
Of course, this is all subject to change because teams can trade for more international bonus pool money. The Twins acquired $500K from Washington in the Brandon Kintzler trade – part of the reason for their favorable current position. They could try to get more. Or they could trade from their copious stock and add pieces from another club looking to go all-out for Ohtani. Another wrinkle.
It's safe to say Ohtani will prioritize a winning club that holds realistic short-term championship aspirations. The Twins, fresh off a postseason appearance with one of the youngest and most talented offensive cores in the league, stack up well in this regard – albeit not as well as other suitors like the Dodgers, Cubs or Yankees. But they do check the box and right now Minnesota is one of the most pitching-friendly destinations in the world.
Joe Schmit reported that the Twins have hired a new trainer with Japanese ties. Mike Berardino notes that the Twins have a "strong working relationship" with Nez Balelo, hired on as Ohtani's agent, and Minnesota has worked recently with Ohtani's team in Japan, selling Michael Tonkin's rights to the Fighters a few weeks back.
Now, is any of this necessarily meaningful? No. But they are tidbits worth keeping in mind. One tie that would really serve to lure Ohtani is signing free agent starter Yu Darvish. Ohtani has a known affinity for the right-hander, and wore his No. 11 in NPB as an homage.
And for what it's worth, Levine is quite familiar with Darvish, as he was assistant GM in Texas when the Rangers brought him over from Japan six years ago. Over the weekend he said he's been in "active" conversations with Darvish's agent and called the righty a priority.
Signing both Darvish and Ohtani would be a splash of almost unthinkable magnitude, but it's not an impossible thought. And what a way it would be to set this rotation up for the next five years.
A Distant Second?
With all the above being considered, I think you could make a reasonable argument for the Twins landing second on Ohtani's list of preferences, or at least in the top five (especially if they could land Darvish). But the problem is that No. 1 on that list feels overwhelmingly likely, if not inevitable. Ohtani is destined to be a Yankee.
John Harper of the New York Daily News wrote as much last week and it's hard to disagree with his conclusion. The Yankees can offer everything the Twins can and then some. They can pay him (slightly) more. They can give him DH at-bats between starts. They're a bona fide championship contender. They already have Masahiro Tanaka, another former NPB superstar, locked into their rotation long-term. And of course there is the huge market of NYC and all it entails. His earning potential outside of game checks is vastly higher there, so as is usually the case when the Yankees are involved, money will talk.
It's a David versus Goliath scenario and the Twins have typically not fared well against the Yanks in such contests historically. But it's fun to dream on and, up until a deal somewhere is officially announced within the next month, we can do so without being utterly delusional.
Regardless of where he ends up signing, the Ohtani derby will be like nothing else we've seen before in the major leagues, and his game on the field figures to follow suit.
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