The Minnesota Twins seem all-in on prized Japanese pitcher and hitter Shohei Ohtani. What have they been doing to make a strong run at the star?
Shohei Ohtani. He’s possibly the most intriguing player on the market without ever playing a game in the MLB. Even so, he’s been labeled as the “Japanese Babe Ruth” in the Japanese Pacific League. Not to mention, he’s considered arguably the best pitcher to ever come out of Japan. Altogether, he has just about every MLB team interested in him, including the Minnesota Twins.
Since 2013, the 23-year-old Japanese phenom has played for the Nippon Ham Fighters. In five seasons, he’s hitting .286/.358/.500 with 48 homers and 166 RBIs. The power numbers may not strike anyone as “Babe Ruth caliber” but he’s hit 30 of the 48 in his last 169 games dating back to the 2016 season.
As far as his pitching, he boasts a 42-15 record and 2.52 ERA. The 6-foot-4 Ohtani features a 100-plus mph fastball that’s reached a career-high of 102. Along with his fastball, he has a nasty splitter and slider more than capable of getting batters out. Nevertheless, the fastball is clearly the Japanese pitcher’s go-to pitch.
Overall, he’s the ultimate two-way player. Here’s a few highlights from the rubber and at the plate:
While Ohtani missed time in 2017 with an ankle injury, the two-way player is still receiving heavy interest for his all-around game. In particular, the Twins are making headlines with a couple of moves that show their heavy interest in Ohtani.
First, Joe Schmit reports the Twins hired a new trainer with strong Japanese ties. It’s hard to say that’s going to convince Ohtani to come to Minnesota, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Same goes for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who’s apparently the Twins’ top pursuit in the starting pitching market right now.
If the Twins were to sign Darvish though, it’d certainly increase the Twins’ chances of signing Ohtani. Specifically, Darvish could help Ohtani acclimate to life in America as well as help the young pitcher make adjustments to the MLB game. While Darvish will come rather expensive, Minnesota would get someone they can place in the top of their rotation and possibly, a future ace in the process. Personally, I’m not fond of giving Darvish ace-caliber money, but it may be worth the price if it helps bring the highly touted Ohtani to town.
Fortunately, signing both wouldn’t cost as much as one would think either. Since Ohtani is under 25 years old, there are contract restrictions in place preventing him from signing a huge deal. In turn, he’s going to receive a minor league contract based on how much international pool money teams have to spend. In other words, he’s likely not garnering anything over $3.5 million on his first MLB deal. This bodes well for a small market team like the Twins, especially after they voided the contract of international prospect Jelfry Marte.
Essentially, voiding Marte’s contract gave Minnesota $3 million to add to their international pool money, giving them a total of $3.245 million according to the Star Tribune. As a result, the Twins have the third most pool money behind the likes of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. So, the Twins should be one of the more enticing options for Ohtani, financially speaking.
Yet, there’s reason to believe the terms of his first contract aren’t a huge factor given the range of money he can receive isn’t large. In reality, the opportunity to hit and pitch, win games, and make money off the field seems like the most important factors.
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While Minnesota can meet the first two desires, Ohtani is bound to receive more money off the field elsewhere. Unfortunately, that means places like New York and Los Angeles have an advantage.
That being said, the Twins can sell a culture perfect for Ohtani to step into, especially if they were to sign Darvish. In the end, the familiarity factor could become a huge selling factor. Not to mention, a team that’s trending upwards with a cast of young, promising talent.
It’s also fair to point out Twins scout Koji Takahashi has spoken with Ohtani’s parents, something that’s hard to do according to the Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino. Ohtani also shares the same agent as Twins pitcher Phil Hughes and former Twins Trevor Plouffe and Aaron Hicks. So, the Twins may have a slight advantage over other teams based on their connections alone.
On the other hand, Ohtani coming to America may just go on hold altogether. According to Jon Heyman, the MLB Players Union is unhappy that the Nippon Ham Fighters, who still own Ohtani’s rights, can receive a $20 million posting fee when Ohtani can only receive up to $3.5 million. In result, they’ve given the league a Monday deadline to resolve the issue, otherwise, Ohtani may have to delay his MLB pursuit.
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Regardless, the Twins are setting themselves up for a strong run at Ohtani if he’s indeed available. Considering the cheap price tag and superb potential, the Japanese star would be a worthwhile addition. Let’s just hope the posting agreement gets settled and the front office duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine convince Ohtani that Minnesota should be his second home.