The sweepstakes to sign Shohei Ohtani is underway. Even if no one will publicly admit they are part of it.
The two-way superstar is on the open market. He filed for free agency last week after spending the first six seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Angels.
Seemingly just Ohtani and agent Nez Balelo know what the Japanese superstar is thinking. The pitcher/designated hitter declined to discuss the subject of free agency repeatedly during the past season.
Balelo has not availed himself to the media this week during the Major League Baseball General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Not surprisingly, Ohtani is the talk of the meetings. Even if no GM will commit to pursing the 29-year-old who had a season for the ages this year when he hit .304/.412/.654 with an American League-leading 44 home runs and 20 stolen bases while posting a 10-5 record and a 3.14 ERA as a pitcher.
“Everyone in baseball is watching and so is every baseball fan,” Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what ends up happening. It is such a unique situation.”
Ohtani is unquestionably the most unique player to reach the market since the advent of free agency prior to the 1976 season. He is not only one of baseball’s best hitters but one of the sport’s top pitchers.
Ohtani will not be able to pitch until at least 2025 after undergoing elbow surgery in September. However, he is expected to be ready to be a DH by the start of next season.
“He would be a fit on any team,” Houston Astros GM Dana Brown said.
There is belief within the industry that Ohtani could still land a contract worth at least $500 million. That would be a record for a baseball player, surpassing Ohtani’s longtime teammate Mike Trout, who is currently playing on a 12-year, $426-million deal.
Yet no GM would admit that his team is either in the bidding for Ohtani or at least considering it. They also demurred when asked to predict his contract.
“Special player, that’s all I say,” said Chris Young, GM of the World Series champion Texas Rangers.
Few GMs went beyond that when asked about Ohtani, though the Angels’ Perry Minasian admitted he would like Ohtani to stay.
Minasian proved that by his actions at the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Despite the Angels barely being on the fringe of contention, they dealt for veteran players in attempt to breaks streaks seven straight losing seasons and nine consecutive seasons without a postseason berth.
The Angels and Detroit Tigers currently have the longest playoff droughts in the major leagues.
However, even Minasian was vague about the Angels’ pursuit of Ohtani.
“You don’t base an offseason on one single player,” Minasian said. “You have to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, so on and so forth. We’re going to work like we always we do. We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to have a lot of conversations and see how everything goes.”
The New York Yankees are the wealthiest franchise in the sport and seemingly would be able to sign Ohtani to a record-setting contract. However, GM Brian Cashman also spoke in generalities about Ohtani and the rest of the players on the market.
“We’re going to be interested in looking at everything that’s available that can make us better,” Cashman said.
While Brown also wouldn’t tip the Astros’ hand, he understands that Ohtani is one of a kind player.
“He brings so much to the game, so much excitement, he’s got a fan base, he’s an exciting player,” Brown said. “He’s great for the game of baseball.”