Back in the winter of 2011, the Texas Rangers were able to win the battle for the services of a Japanese superstar pitcher in Yu Darvish. Fast forward to this winter and they’re back in a battle for another Japanese superstar ready to compete in the major leagues.
According to multiple reports, the Rangers are listed as one of the seven finalists who will meet with the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher/left-handed batter. Ohtani will also meet with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs this week in Los Angeles.
Ohtani has played for the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Pacific League since 2013. He wears the same #11 as former Ranger Yu Darvish, who also played professionally in Japan for the Fighters. In five seasons, Ohtani has a 2.52 ERA in 82 career starts as a pitcher. With the bat in his hands, he has a .286 average in appearing in 403 games.
For what it’s worth, Darvish had a 1.99 career ERA in twice as many starts in Japan and over two more seasons.
In case you didn’t notice, the overall theme of the teams remaining of Ohtani’s list is that, besides the Rangers and Cubs, they’re all on the West Coast. The Rangers don’t have the Pacific Ocean or a notably strong Japanese culture in their town, but they do have the history of making it work with Darvish and a reportedly strong history with Ohtani, too. According to an article by T.R. Sullivan, Rangers Assistant General Manager Josh Boyd has been scouting Ohtani ever since he was in high school. Ohtani was interested in coming over to the United States then, and the Rangers were also a finalist to sign him them, but he opted to stay in Japan and play for the Nippon Ham Fighters when no major league team seemed interested in letting him both pitch AND hit.
Boyd and the Rangers have kept a keen eye on Ohtani ever since and have been especially present in Japan over the last year. The competitive nature of Ohtani will make him want to pitch AND hit in the major leagues, whether teams will actually use him that way is another conversation, but the Rangers being in the American league will certainly help their case as they could use him as a DH on days he isn’t pitching.
On a less important but interesting note, the Rangers will be able to offer Ohtani the most money as a signing bonus due to their $3.535 million of international bonus money. Other favorites like the Giants and Dodgers can only offer $300,000. All teams will be able to offer the same base salary due to league rules.
It seems as most, if not all, of the finalists have already met with Ohtani, so it could be just a few days or so before he chooses a team. After that, he’ll have a 21 day contract-negotiating period with the team he chooses.
Ohtani’s decision could be a huge factor in the way the Rangers organization approaches the remainder of the offseason. If they’re able to make the huge splash and sign the potential star player, they could be aggressive and look to add another big name starting pitcher to boost their chances for a World Series run in 2018. If Ohtani opts to go elsewhere, the Rangers will likely still go after starting pitchers, but more likely the mold of the low-risk/low-investment Doug Fister or Mike Minor-type signings of the last two weeks. Just seeing if something sticks.
With the team winning four division titles in the last eight seasons and a new ballpark being on the way in 2020, the front office would surely love to make a splash to keep the good times rolling for the franchise instead of opening a sparkly new ballpark with a rebuilding team. While it’s far from a certainty, the addition of Ohtani would definitely spark the fanbase and team alike with the star potential he brings to the table.
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