Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

The Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes and how the Rays can win it

Like pretty much all other teams, the Rays are spending extensive hours plotting and preparing their pitch for Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. They are seizing on the opportunity to land a potentially franchise-changing player for what is a, relatively, bargain price, a $20-million posting fee plus a modest bonus of no more than a few million for six years of control with a degree of cost certainty.

And when that meant packaging their research and reasons why they are the best fit into answers to a questionnaire sent last weekend by Ohtani’s CAA agents, they were eager to comply. Without knowing what small detail could be the deciding factor in this unusual pursuit, and whether this is truly an open competition or, as some outsiders suspect, if the Ohtani camp may already have a list of finalists, the Rays had nothing to lose by telling all they could.

Citing respect for Ohtani, his agents and, of course, the process, the Rays declined to share their answers or even how, or in what form, they presented their dossier, which was requested in English and Japanese.

But being the helpful type that we are, here are some suggestions we have:

1. Evaluate Ohtani’s talent as a pitcher and as a hitter.

Easy answer for the Rays: "He’s really, really good as a pitcher. And really, really good as a hitter. Among the best we’ve ever seen. And we’d be honored to have him show it in our uniform, which we can change quickly if he wants us to."

2. Explain player development, medical training and player performance philosophies and facilities.

The Rays can brag a bit about how they’ve always been focused on player development, are known for doing what’s best for the player and have rebuilt their farm system to among the game’s deeper. That they have what’s considered one of the best medical staffs in the game, though some of the faces are changing this year. And they are often on the cutting edge with new technology and methods in performance science, and open to more. And they’d be happy to show it in the newly re-named "Shohei Ohtani Training Facility."

3. Describe minor league and spring training facilities.

Rays have solid facilities throughout their system from Triple-A Durham down and a very good— though not state of the art — setup for spring camp (and rehabbing) in Port Charlotte. Given that Ohtani come from a small, somewhat rural area, maybe Port Charlotte turns out to be the key.

4. Detail resources for Ohtani’s cultural assimilation into the team’s city.

The Rays have had several Japanese players with no known complaints; Akinori Iwamura for three seasons and big-time stars Hideo Nomo and Hideki Matsui at the end of their careers. But compared to what the Yankees, Mariners, and Dodgers/Angels can tout, the Rays don’t have a lot to work with in the Tampa Bay market. So they may be better off selling it the other way: "There won’t be a lot of people to bother you so you can assimilate as comfortably as possible."

5. Demonstrate a vision for how Ohtani could integrate into the team’s organization.

The Rays can point to what they’ve done with 2017 top pick Brendan McKay in his bid to remain a two-way player, and how they invested $7-million-plus in him. How open-minded, flexible and patient they will be Ohtani. And how they’ve been at the forefront for 10 years of maximizing their roster in terms of platoons and Ben Zobrist-style super-utility guys. So if there was ever a perfect fit between a team and the majors first true two-way star in decades, this is it. Sign here?

6. Tell Ohtani why the team is a desirable place to play.

Simply, and seriously, that Tampa Bay is not New York, LA, Seattle or Chicago. That Ohtani won’t be constantly mobbed as the center of attention, that the relaxed pace and lifestyle will be more comfortable, that not having external win-now pressures will be more accommodating to his development. And that it would be really cool for him to lead the Rays back to the playoffs and eventually into the new Ohtani Field stadium.

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] and (727) 893-8801.

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