If you haven’t heard, Shohei Otani has sent a request to every team so he can try and better shape the place he will land in 2018. Teams have been asked to present why their organization would fit best for him, from a non-financial viewpoint. So where do the Dodgers fall in this sweepstakes?
A player as highly intriguing as a potential two-way star only comes around so often, why wouldn’t his free agency process have a little extra flair. Depending on who you ask, it’s a pretty baller move for any free agent to do. For Los Angeles, a city already home to a few Big Ballers, there feels like there is room to squeeze in one more.
Otani’s list has a bit of everything. There are the basic requests, such as ““Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play.” Then there are more complex questions, such as, “Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation.” It’s hard to think that most teams will able to offer quality answers to the question but the Dodgers aren’t most teams.
Brandon McCarthy may have already answered all seven questions for the Dodgers in a tweet Sunday night, but below are a few more detailed answers to the 23-year-old phenom’s list.
Side note: If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put my money on Philly to land this one.
“An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter.”
Well, I can’t speak on behalf of the Dodgers here, but it’s pretty obvious this guy has Hall of Fame potential and the expectations to match. The scouting for Otani has been pilling up since his name was first heard around the rumor mill a few years ago.
Here’s a video of him throwing a variety of pitches in 2015:
Since then, he’s only gotten nastier. Here are his sliders from his final start in the NPB:
On the mound, he’s got just about every projectable trait you would want. Big frame, great arm action, he’s smart, and he’s confident. After dominating the second best league in the world for the past year, why wouldn’t you be at his age?
Something else to note is his athleticism and speed, after thoughts when you have a 102 MPH fastball and can hit balls out of domed stadiums. Not to worry, the kid flies too.
Otani is also in a position where he gets to dictate his future, not only the location but his position. Prospects like Otani in the US, even when they are as gifted two-ways as he is, are usually destined for the mound, just ask Hunter Greene.
He’s made it clear he wants to hit, but he also has room to grow to be the batter he was in the NPB in the MLB. For the Dodgers, they have had some recent success improving an international signee from his age 23 to 25 seasons lately – Hi, Yasiel. What’s to say that under the guidance of Turner Ward, Otani can’t arrive and make that leap as well?
So, for an overall evaluation of talent, the Dodgers will surely have something complex for Otani’s group. More than likely, a few things that no other team in the league will bring up and that will benefit them. It’s always better to stand out.
“Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities; A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization;“Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities;”
I’m gonna group the last six into two sections because this is my article and you aren’t going to stop me.
Development, performance philosophies, and facilities: now we’re really speaking the Dodgers’ language.
Since the Guggenheim group bought the Dodgers, they have revitalized the organization’s staff with quality hirings and a knack for keeping up with what’s cutting edge in all aspects of athletics. Baseball has always been the sport of tradition and unwritten rules, which isn’t necessarily the best for pro athlete’s rehabilitation and development.
The fact that the Dodgers have already gone through this transition makes it a lot easier to sell the thought that this team is healthy, hungry and on top of every aspect of the game.
The biggest advantage the Dodgers may have in reeling in Otani is the team’s meticulous training and diet awareness. Former Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler, now the manager for the Phillies, was insistent in making the Dodgers the “healthiest team in baseball.”
In the words of Cody Bellinger, he did just that before he left, “”With the Dodgers organization, everything is organic, so that’s great. Even when we’re on the road, our home chef cooks all organic, so it’s lots of organic chicken, rice, and salmon. We get pretty lucky over here.”
This idea ranges from the top of the organization to the bottom, everyone eats. Even with Kapler moving on, the system is in place, and the players seem to love it.
For the facilities, the Dodgers definitely have that covered as well. Camel Back Ranch, the Dodgers’ spring training home, is a gorgeous facility built in 2009. It holds 13,000 and comes with all the best and whistles you can imagine. This recap from 2011 breaks it down in its entirety, but the stand out point was this:
"“Fans don’t see what happens behind the scenes—and most won’t find things like weight rooms, aquatic treadmills and multiple clubhouses interesting, but both teams had the chance to spec out their operations spaces for their specific needs…The Dodgers, meanwhile, chose to break out the minor-league operations in a three-building complex, with separate buildings for training, support and clubhouses. Video throughout the entire complex allows coaches the chance to provide instant feedback to position players and pitchers.”"
For Triple-A, probably the only minor league spot Otani would spend any major time, Oklahoma City also boasts one of the best stadiums in the minor leagues. Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark holds up to 13,000, is located in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.
As far as integration goes, the Dodgers don’t have the benefit of using the designated hitter more than a few times a year, but that doesn’t necessarily hurt them too much.
Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times has a great breakdown of how we would fit in and a quote he got from Andrew Friedman really stood out to me:
"“Speaking generally of two-way players and not of Ohtani specifically, Friedman said last week, “We definitely think that it’s doable for someone who’s talented enough to do both. It takes being a little creative in trying to figure out a schedule and figure out recovery days.”"
He also went on to make a great point about the Dodgers’ pitching depth. Most teams would need Otani to start once every five days, not LA. With the expectation that 10 or more pitchers who started for the Dodgers will be back plus their willingness space out starts are both great for the team’s chances as of now.
“Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation; Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play; Relevant marketplace characteristics.”
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Cultural assimilation is probably the part of free agent signings that fans disregard and care for the least. Everyone has a preference for their living situation – even baseball players! – And your background has a huge part in that. It’s bigger than baseball, it’s your life, and being comfortable where you are is a big part of that.
Otani has also made it clear that he doesn’t necessarily need to be in a Los Angeles or New York, he want’s the team that fits him best. I can hear the Brewers fans cheering from here.
The Giants were the first team to bring a player over from Japan all the way back in 1964, but the stint only lasted a year. After that, the Dodgers were the next team to bring a player over, and they had a bit more success.
Hideo Nomo landed here in 1995 and quickly rose in popularity while dominating on the mound. 1995 NL Rookie of the Year, NL strikeout leader and an all-star appearance, I would guess Nomo felt pretty comfortable in LA.
He was so popular, Nike created a signature sneaker for him: the Air Max Nomo. No one besides Ken Griffey Jr. had that type of deal going for them in the 90s. Even today, baseball players struggle to have recognizable signature cleats, streetwear is an afterthought. This ties into the marketing question as well, but we will get to that later.
Since then, the Dodgers have had six more players from Japan and a much more from other Asian countries. Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu can all attest to the great experience here, and all have spoken publicly about the support they receive and how much they’ve enjoyed the city. It’s also apparent that on the days these men pitch there is extra energy in the stadium and it is always packed.
I was at Darvish’s first start at Dodgers stadium, which was on a weekday against the White Sox. It was sold out and was as loud, if not louder, than the NLDS the year prior. The starts following were just as hard to get a ticket for.
According to the last census, Los Angeles County is home to the largest Asian population in the country with more than 1.7 million residents. On top of that, Los Angeles and Honolulu have the largest concentrated population of Japanese-American people. Los Angeles is as diverse as anywhere in the world and with so many different communities within its limits, it’s comforting to know you can find a little bit of anything when you live here.
For the marketing side of things, it’s not too complicated. LA is a microcosm of the nation, and virtually anything you can market successfully here will probably have countrywide success. This part is pretty self-explanatory, but few cities in the nation can boast the marketplace LA has. It has buyers and sellers, it has market flexibility, you know, business things.
Hideo Nomo got a shoe in his first year here, what do you think Japanese Babe Ruth would do?
With all this in mind, LA creates a unique opportunity for Otani to not only fit in right away as a pitcher for a contending team but also have the chance to further develop his skills at the plate. It has the most to offer from facilities to players to personal comfort, and that goes a long way.
In the words of Kendrick, “What more can I say? Welcome to LA.”