"Never" is a strong word, but -- really, honestly, seriously -- there has never been a Hot Stove subplot quite like what we're seeing with Shohei Ohtani.
The Japanese sensation, gifted with the ability to throw a baseball 100 mph and hit it 500 feet, is about to be made available by his Japanese Pacific League club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, assuming MLB's owners approve the new posting system on Friday. It will be a $20 million posting fee to obtain the rights to Ohtani, who, at 23 years old, is eligible only for a Minor League contract and a rather miniscule signing bonus that falls within the parameters of the league's international bonus pool.
That means that a player whose upside and unique skillset would easily command a nine-figure contract in the open market can be had for a relative pittance. It also means quite literally every team in baseball is in on this guy, which is pretty rare, in and of itself.
Rarer still? It's not about the finances but the fit. If Ohtani were all about making every last dollar, he'd be waiting two years to come to MLB, when he'd be free and clear of the bonus restrictions. He is serious about finding a place where he can maximize his potential and establish himself as one of the game's greats, which is why his representatives recently asked all 30 MLB clubs to fill out a seven-part questionnaire detailing why they are the right home for him.
That homework assignment -- an opportunity for execs to make their pitch to a guy who can pitch and hit -- is due on Friday, and there will be a 21-day window to sign Ohtani.
In the meantime, here is a quick and dirty synopsis of each club's Ohtani outlook, presented in one man's pure guess as to the order of likelihood of the deal getting done (from least likely to most likely). Because Ohtani has an at least initial intent to become MLB's first two-way player, we'll give general preference to some American League squads with DH at-bats to offer. But it's frankly hard to know how much of a deal-breaker the National League rules will be.
Well, there's obviously opportunity to become the franchise centerpiece here, because every attempt is being made to ship off the current franchise centerpiece, Giancarlo Stanton. And if Ohtani happens to want a sweet side gig as an editor and contributor to the Players' Tribune, he can make the call upstairs to Derek Jeter.
No one seriously expects the A's to be the ones to land Ohtani. But hey, no one seriously expected them to be the ones to initially sign Yoenis Cespedes, either. Because of the lottery-ticket nature of the Ohtani sweepstakes, a win for Oakland here would be a shift from "Moneyball" to Powerball.
If Ohtani wants to prove his pitching translates not only at the highest level but at the highest altitude, life on the Rox looks pretty good.
With the Tigers tearing it down, this is not exactly an easy sell at the moment. But history tells us that if you can win a World Series in Detroit, you get to deliver pizzas via helicopter, and that has to count for something. So does playing alongside future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera.
With the very real possibility that this fan base is about to wave goodbye to one or all of three principal figures from the 2015 title run -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain -- Royals fans will be clamoring for a new star to latch onto. They would lavish Ohtani with praise and BBQ. There are worse fates in life.
For all we know, Ohtani's desire to play big league ball might have emanated from his first exposure to Isuro "Kamikaze" Tanaka in "Major League II." And anyway, who doesn't want to play for Terry Francona or watch LeBron play next door?
The Pirates are one of only four teams that can offer Ohtani north of $2 million for the bonus, and they've got one of the best pitching coaches in the game in Ray Searage.
"O"htani. There. I've drawn up the framework for marketing gold. The rest is up to the Birds and the ballplayer. And when the fans at Camden Yards yell "O!" during the national anthem, Ohtani can pretend it's for him. On the baseball side, Buck Showalter is so good at making players from all cultures and countries feel at home, the Orioles' medical staff is good at keeping pitchers healthy and there is instant opportunity in the rotation and lineup.
Did you know the Reds are the only Major League team that has yet to field a Japanese player? Ohtani can break the mold in the city where professional baseball started. Top draft pick Hunter Greene has already surrendered the two-way dream to focus on pitching, but the Reds can sell Ohtani on being, like Greene, a key piece of their future.
A club coming off a major competitive turnaround, Spring Training right at "home" and uniforms that would not appear out of place in the Japanese Pacific League.
SunTrust Park is still young enough to become "The House That Ohtani Built." The Braves were just punished severely for their international exploits, but they've still got one of the stronger farm systems in the game and could aggressively aim to get better this winter under new GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Don't know how Ohtani feels about it, but I, for one, definitely want to live in a world in which Yoenis Cespedes, Tim Tebow and Shohei Ohtani are all in the same starting lineup.
With Bryce Harper's looming free agency, the Nats are all-in on making 2018 the year they finally advance in October, and they can sell Ohtani on the aggressive and successful approach they've taken to club construction in recent years. Oh, and the Japanese embassy is right up the road, if he happens to need anything.
17. White Sox
Because the Sox only have $300,000 to offer here and because the selling point is tied more to the prospect picture than the current Major League look, Ohtani would have to be thinking more about 2019 or '20 to be sold on the Sox. But for the rest of us, it's fun to think about Ohtani and Michael Kopech firing off 100-mph fastballs in a future rotation on the South Side.
San Diego sells itself, but the team has to market the merits of a loaded farm system. Here is an opportunity to become quite possibly the only Padre that people outside the greater San Diego area can name off the top of their heads. More to the point, GM A.J. Preller personally scouted Ohtani in Japan this year, an indication of the Padres' interest in making Ohtani a central figure in their rebuild.
The Brew Crew's rise up the standings in 2017 was ahead of schedule but served as affirmation that, with intelligence up top and a ton of talent at or nearing the big league level, this club's for real. Ohtani could join a burgeoning contender in an underrated American city where the focus would be more on the baseball, not the bright lights. For all we know, that latter point might appeal to him most of all -- especially if he really, really likes beer.
Not much to look at now, but it's pretty widely assumed that a year from now the Phils, with zero major monetary commitments on their books, will be a major player for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. So the future looks bright and financially fruitful here. And in the meantime, Ohtani can get ripped by following new manager Gabe Kapler's ab workout program.
Wouldn't he have to at least be a little bit intrigued by the Rays already having a two-way player in their system in their top 2017 draft pick Brendan McKay? That the Rays are allowing McKay to pitch and split time at first base and DH thus far in his pro career is evidence of their open-mindedness and the creativity it will take to make two-way play possible on the big league stage is something the Rays generally happen to specialize in.
A wildly successful franchise with a terrific developmental track record, a passionate fan base that always shows up (Japan native So Taguchi called St. Louis "baseball heaven") and one of baseball's most beloved batterymates in Yadi Molina. If you happen like toasted ravioli (for some reason), it's especially great.
11. Blue Jays
A diverse and dynamic city, an entire country rooting for you and an organization that is fully devoted to the science of sport and its impact on players' health and performance. At the Major League level, the Blue Jays rate on the old side, and they might be embarking upon major transition in the near future. But Ohtani would help speed up the bridge between October entries.
Possible sleeper? General manager Thad Levine has experience in this area with Yu Darvish's assimilation to the Rangers, where Levine was Jon Daniels' assistant. If the Twins, who can offer Ohtani a $3.07 million bonus, happen to surprise people and sign Darvish, as is their hope, that adds to the allure for Ohtani. And even if that's not the case, this is a club with a good young position player core, some interesting young arms on the horizon and a forward-thinking front office. (I was going to make some joke here about the possibility that Ohtani growing up a Molitor fan and wanting to play for him, but then I remembered he was only 4 years old when Molitor retired. Jeez.)
If Ohtani wants a measuring stick to gauge whether he has or can attain greatness at the big league level, there it is. It's that gentleman manning center field and wearing No. 27. And if Ohtani were aboard, you'd have to think the Halos' chances of actually winning with Mike Trout would improve substantially.
The defending champs are led by an analytically minded front office that would allow Ohtani plenty of assistance in the effort to maximize his unique abilities. Lots of DH at-bats are open with Carlos Beltran retired, and plenty of pitching wisdom would be available from rotation mate Justin Verlander. It would be pretty obnoxious for Houston to win both the World Series and the Ohtani sweepstakes within a matter of months, but I guess that's still preferable to him going to the Yankees…
If Joe Maddon can make Travis Wood a left fielder, certainly he can make it work with Ohtani as a two-way talent. The Cubs not only have an open-minded manager but a terrific medical track record with their pitchers, a championship-level position-player core and a leader in Theo Epstein with a long track record of successfully integrating Japanese players to the bigs.
The Giants' players train in Scottsdale, Ariz., play their home games at AT&T Park and can actually afford the rent in San Francisco. Throw in a few recent championships, a Japanese-speaking bench coach in Hensley Meulens (assuming the Yankees don't poach him), and the ability to work with Buster Posey, and the DH stuff starts to feel secondary. This is one of the three teams Ohtani discussed signing with in 2012.
GM Jerry Dipoto has made it no secret that he's giving Ohtani the hard sell, and the Mariners have plenty of selling points, beginning, of course, with their status as the place where Ichiro's big league legend began. Beyond Ichiro, Kaz Sasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Kenji Johjima can speak to the way Seattle has served as a rewarding landing spot for Japanese talent, and Seattle is just a hop, skip, jump… and 15-hour flight… away from home.
The Dodgers nearly signed Ohtani out of high school, so there's a history there. There's also the recent history of this club being one win away from the World Series and the reality -- because of the quality of the current roster, the state of the farm system and the long-term financial resources -- that the Dodgers are as well-positioned as any team to get back to the World Series multiple times in the coming years. This is a progressive front office that is creative in its approach to roster maximization, so Ohtani's two-way talents would be served well here, even if the lack of a DH spot isn't ideal.
3. Red Sox
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Takashi Saito can all attest to Boston's ability to help a Japanese player assimilate to the bigs. And though the Red Sox only have $462,500 of bonus pool money to spend on Ohtani's initial stateside contract, they are certainly well-equipped to give him a gargantuan deal down the road. Ohtani is known as the "Babe Ruth of Japan" because he can pitch and hit, so it only makes sense for him to go to the place where Babe Ruth pitched and hit.
Well, yeah, it also makes sense for the Babe Ruth of Japan to go where Babe Ruth truly became Babe Ruth. You've got the 27 titles, the Masahiro Tanaka and Hideki Matsui success stories, the bright lights of the big city, the $3.5 million upfront and gobs of dollars available later, the win-now team, the short porch in right field, etc., etc. This is a pretty pointless paragraph, really, because the Yankees' situation sells itself. Unless, of course, Ohtani is one of the millions of people who, either out of envy or dread or historic result, don't like the Yankees.
This club has invested a ton of time, energy and money into knowing and understanding the Japanese market (they had discussions about signing Ohtani out of high school), which is why they were so successful in helping Yu Darvish tap into his stateside potential. Ohtani inherited Darvish's No. 11 when he joined the Nippon-Ham Fighters, and it's not hard to imagine him inheriting Darvish's former rotation role in Texas. Add in the available DH at-bats, the competitive-but-not-emotionally-overwhelming environment in Arlington and the $3.535 million in bonus money available (the most of any club), and this is my personal pick to click.
But the beauty of it all is that nobody knows what Ohtani has in mind. That's what makes this the greatest "Sho" in town.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.