Be sure to tune in to the Pitch Talks with TK and Weiner podcast every Saturday on Homestand Sports!
In a sport that follows convention to a tee, Shohei Ohtani is blazing a new trail into the MLB. The 23-year old prodigy boasts a double-edged sword approach. A 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings during his five-year tenure in the Japanese Pacific League, along with a .286/.358/.500 stat line at the plate to compliment 48 homeruns, make him a blue chip commodity. The ability to reach speeds of 100-mph on the mound along with being an offensive threat at the plate brands Ohtani as the game’s true Swiss Army knife.
Once the clock struck midnight on December 1st, the Shohei Ohtani bidding war began. All 30 MLB owners ratified a posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball, freeing the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to make Ohtani available. Opening the floodgates for every MLB franchise to make a run at signing the Japanese phenom.
Teams must pay a $20-million fee to the Nippon-Ham Fighters if they wish to negotiate with the prized asset. Because Ohtani is below the age of 25, he’s only subject to international bonus pool limits instead of true free agency. Clubs have their entire international bonus pool to their disposal in the hopes of signing him. The Texas Rangers currently have the most available finances to acquire international players with $3.535 million. The Yankees are second at $3.5 million, but are out of the running after Ohtani announced Sunday he won’t sign with the team. The reason yet to be determined (though I think I have an idea). Third are the Twins then Pirates, Giants and Mariners etc.
Most free agents determine their primary team of interest based on location, contractual preference and overall ability to contend. Because Ohtani plans to hit as well as pitch, there are other underlying factors in his decision. A primary one being which league is best suited for the two-way superstar.
The American League would allow Shohei to occupy the DH spot of the lineup on days he isn’t scheduled to pitch. Leading to a four game stretch where he would find regular at-bats and then a start on the mound every fifth game. Ohtani made it clear that he wants to do both and designated hitting might make the American League the best case scenario. But if his performance at the plate isn’t equivalent to the teams other DH options, he could be pushed to pitch exclusively.
On the flip side, the National League supplies a spot in the lineup for the pitcher currently in play. Ohtani would hit in every scheduled start and get consistent calls to pinch hit (or even play the field) on off-days. Not to mention the lighter load of pitching to National League lineups instead of hard hitting American League lineups that boast designated hitters.
Yet, there’s a reason we don’t see many two-way players in the MLB. First of all, it’s freaking hard to do. Second of all, it’s extremely taxing on the body. Throwing a baseball over-hand inverts the shoulder and is deemed an unnatural motion. Doing it 95-times in a three hour stretch causes wear and fatigue. That’s why we don’t witness many complete games anymore and that’s why starting pitchers normally get one start out of every five. Consistent at-bats during a 162 game season can only add to the risk of injury. Not to mention the possibility of Shohei playing the field in the National League where a DH spot isn’t supplied. Teams (like the Yankees) might not be willing to commit to a player who fully expects to do both.
But that’s what makes Ohtani an anomaly. He’s so damn good that teams are actually considering it, and since he’s going to get paid well below his market value, there’s sure to be plenty of suiters willing to lock down the Japanese superstar.