Shohei Ohtani could be baseball’s best two-way player since Babe Ruth. Yes, this is pure speculation.
This is fact: He will not be playing for the Royals.
Ohtani, the 23-year-old Japanese star, has decided to meet with seven clubs as he decides where to sign this offseason, according to a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The teams still alive in the process: Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
Ohtani is thought to be interested in a West Coast market and/or one that will allow him to continue his career as a pitcher and a hitter. In his final season in Japan, Ohtani batted .332 with a .402 on-base percentage and .540 slugging in 65 games. He also posted a 3.20 ERA in 25 1/3 innings, one year after logging a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.
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On the whole, however, Ohtani’s preferences are difficult to discern. At 23 years old, he is bypassing a possible nine-figure contract by coming to the major leagues this winter instead of two years from now. Because he is under 25 years old, he is subject to international signing restrictions imposed under the latest collective-bargaining agreement.
Yet two days after he was posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani eliminated three of the four teams — Yankees, Twins and Pirates — with the largest international signing bonus pool. The Rangers can offer the biggest signing bonus, according to numbers compiled by the Associated Press. The number: $3.535 million.
The Royals exercised their due diligence on Ohtani, yet they never seriously considered themselves in the running, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The club is preparing to move into a rebuilding period and not positioned to contend for the next two to three years. Yet perhaps the biggest knock against Kansas City was its lack of a significant Japanese population and culture.
Ohtani is reportedly interested in signing in a city in which adjusting to American culture will be easier. Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles all rank in the top six among cities with a Japanese American population.
The Royals believe they have better opportunities to sign Japanese players who have already played in the major leagues and have become more familiar with Kansas City by playing regular-season games in the city. Before the 2014 season, for example, the team traded for outfielder Norichika Aoki.
Still, the club is seeking to expand its scouting presence in Asia. The Royals were never a serious part of the chase for Ohtani. But perhaps they will be part of the hunt for the next one.