The “Would You or Wouldn’t You” series flips the script this time around. It’s no secret that Shohei Ohtani is the premier free agent domino upon which all others hinge. Having eliminated over 20 teams from his list of possible destinations, Ohtani is turning his attention to the West Coast – five NL teams and three AL teams.
Only the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers remain as contenders who do not line the Western border of the U.S. It’s truly an accomplishment to make it to the next round, so to speak, of bidding for Ohtani’s talents.
Just like the playoffs, however, the goal isn’t to make it just past the first round – you’re in it to win it.
So, Shohei Ohtani…
Would You or Wouldn’t You: Sign with the Texas Rangers.
Why You Wouldn’t: Admittedly, you look at last year and the problems that Jeff Banister’s team faced, and it was easily the worst in the skipper’s tenure and possibly the worst by the franchise this decade. Discounting the terrible, injury-ridden 2014 season, Banister had a mostly healthy crew for the year and finished up under .500. Yes, he didn’t have Cole Hamels or Adrian Beltre for half the year, but he did have everyone else.
Key players who are going to be with the club for a while (Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, specifically) underperformed in a manner that might suggest a negative trend. All of that resulted in a club that teased surges down the stretch, but could never link together a good series of games.
The implosion of the bullpen was catastrophic. With the exception of Alex Claudio – the Rangers 2017 Pitcher of the Year – every relief arm had its issues. Whether it was the arm injuries of Keone Kela or the complete breakdown of Sam Dyson and Tony Barnette, the failure of the bullpen was so bad that the Rangers cut ties with their bullpen coach, Brad Holman.
If you’re a free agent starting pitcher, knowing how Major League Baseball trends nowadays, seeing a relief corps who can’t finish and close out a game you started can be disheartening.
Speaking of pitching, the most recent string of non-tendered players seems like a confusing move. By cutting ties with Nick Martinez, A.J. Griffin, and Chi Chi Gonzalez (Gonzalez was going to miss the majority of 2018 anyway, coming off of Tommy John surgery), Texas eliminated its immediate rotation depth.
As a free agent starter, knowing that there is additional pressure on you to carry the majority of the starters’ load in your first season in Major League Baseball can be intimidating. You want to know that there’s backup available – not for you, necessarily, as you plan on making all of your starts, but for the rest of the rotation.
As the Dodgers showed in 2017, quality depth helped sustain their success over the course of 162 games. The Rangers, as of right now, don’t really have ANY depth for a rotation that currently only includes Hamels, Martin Perez, and Doug Fister.
There are a lot of questions going into 2018, questions that can shape how the club could look in 2019 and beyond. Is Joey Gallo going to get more at-bats as a first baseman or the outfield? Is Rougned Odor going to play his way into being a premier second baseman, or is he already regressing, resulting in Texas being stuck with more bad money?
The outfield isn’t great defensively; can Texas be creative internally to craft a lineup that helps to cover up those flaws? Are you going to be able to get at-bats as a Designated Hitter or reps in the outfield with Shin-Soo Choo – still owed a LOT of money – continuing to put up passable numbers and still wanting to play the field? How is Jon Daniels going to fix those other pitching issues?
That’s a lot of questions and uncertainty that could scare a player off.
Why You Would: Texas hasn’t thrown in the towel. While it isn’t about the money, Jon Daniels made moves to acquire as much international cap space as possible because he is all in on Shohei Ohtani. The club cut ties with Prince Fielder, freeing them from financial dead weight for the next few years and allowing for a build to something greater, perhaps.
No, it’s not about the money with Ohtani right now, but maybe seeing how creative Jon Daniels can be with his payroll (something in which he has shown experience) will show Ohtani that there is an intent to continue to field a competitive team without having to suffer through a total rebuild.
Speaking of effort, the Rangers have been keeping a watchful eye and making visits to see Ohtani for six years. While other teams can claim to have been interested for a year or two, the Rangers have been trying to get in the good graces of Ohtani since he was still in high school. Not only is that a definitive show of effort on Daniels’ part, there’s also a familiarity with a front office full of people whose faces he’s seen for a quarter of his life.
Yes, the Rangers only have Hamels, Perez, and Fister. That’s not the end of the Rangers’ moves to bolster the rotation, and Ohtani’s not stupid. The 23-year old surely knows that the rest of the free agent market – specifically the pitching free agent market – hinges on his decisions in the next few days. Daniels likely has his next six Hot Stove moves (and contingency moves) planned out to show Ohtani not just the plans for success in 2018, but beyond.
Speaking of “beyond,” Ohtani has a chance to be the face of the franchise as Texas enters the roofed stadium that will be Globe Life Field which fronts a new community and attraction in Texas Live! Logic might point to Texas being into the second year of a rebuild at that point, but, as noted above, it doesn’t look like Daniels has planned for the window closing.
With a position core of Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, and Rougned Odor, a potential continued relationship with Elvis Andrus, a bullpen core that looks to rebound after a tough year, and a general manager that has been linked to extension talks because of the sustained success of his club, Ohtani can take comfort in knowing that the Texas Rangers have every intention of being competitive for the foreseeable future, including Globe Life Field’s inaugural season.
If Ohtani, indeed, wants to be a committed two-way player, there are at-bats available. No, Shin-Soo Choo isn’t a player that you would consider just as valuable in the field as at the dish. Choo, however, is still serviceable in the field, and if putting Choo out in the field can help rotate DH at-bats with Adrian Beltre and Ohtani, then the Rangers are likely willing to put up with that in the short term.
If Ohtani proves to be just as serviceable in the field, then rotating Choo and Ohtani for four days enters the equation as a possibility. If, as Evan Grant suggests, the Rangers are willing to go to a six-man rotation, then that frees up another day of at-bats for Ohtani, as well as assists in simulating his schedule in Japan.
There’s also the Yu Darvish factor. Believe what you want about Ohtani not wanting to be on a team with an existing Japanese superstar. Yu Darvish isn’t just another Japanese superstar. Darvish was Ohtani’s role model and hero.
Regardless of where Darvish ends up signing, he still lives in Dallas. That’s six months of the year that Ohtani and Darvish can pick each other’s brains, hang out and continue to foster their relationship. At the very least, the Rangers have shown that they can integrate a Japanese superstar and provide him with a level of comfort to thrive in the big leagues.
With all that said, Darvish could very well be part of Jon Daniels’ plan for the future of the Texas Rangers. And perhaps, just perhaps, the idea of hitting a walk-off homer in a game in which Yu Darvish is pitching a shutout has crossed Ohtani’s mind…that’s just fantasy talk on my part.
From a baseball standpoint, if I’m Shohei Ohtani, I WOULD sign with the Texas Rangers. Of the other six clubs mentioned, only the Dodgers have a similar record of sustained success over a long period of time with a potential for continued sustained success. Texas has put in such meticulous care and planning in scouting Ohtani and having eyes on the international market.
The Rangers are going to be moving into a new ballpark in a couple of years, where Ohtani could conceivably be the face of the organization. And there is no plan for the Rangers to stop building a successful team after signing a 23-year old phenom.
What are the chances the Japanese phenom Ohtani agrees with these assertions? Share your predictions on where Ohtani signs with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.