7 Reasons Shohei Otani Should Sign With The Blue Jays

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12: Shohei Ohtani
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12: Shohei Ohtani /

Japanese phenom Shohei Otani is rumoured to be asking to be posted this off-season.  Here’s why the Jays should be at the top of his list.

Shohei Otani is perhaps the most talked-about player in baseball, even though he has never played a game at the major league level.  Called the “Japanese Babe Ruth“, he is dominating Japanese baseball both as an outfielder (leading the Pacific league in OPS in 2016) and as a pitcher (leading the same league in ERA)

Otani is 23 years old, and is under contract in the NPB (with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Sapporo), so if he *does* want to come to the MLB, he will be subject to baseball’s posting system.  If his only interest were money, he would be better off waiting for two years and coming to North America as an International free agent in 2020 at age 25.  At that point, he would likely get a deal larger than the seven-year, $155 million one that Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees in January, 2014.

But apparently, for Otani, it is more about the game than the dollars.  He is rumoured to be asking to be posted this offseason, and many teams are interested, including the Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Which begs the question: would the Jays have a chance?

I think they would.

Here are seven reasons why Otani might favour Toronto.

#1 – The Money

Let’s get the elephant off the table right away.  MLB has made it clear that they will not permit any shenanigans with an Otani contract to get around the posting rules.  It may be possible to structure a creative contract to soften these rules a bit, but the bottom line is that Otani will be a huge financial bargain. The Jays could and should be willing to match any financial offer that Otani receives.  For once, the money really ISN’T the deciding factor.

#2 – The Team

So if it is not all about the money, what would Otani be looking for?  Presumably, he would want to sign with a team that will be a strong contender over the term of his contract (likely six years).

Every year, Baseball America publishes a “minor league all-star team” in which they name the very best prospects at each position.  This year, only one major league team has three prospects on the BA first team.  Yes, it is the Jays.  And one of those prospects might well be #1 on the next BA Top 100 Prospects list, once Yoan Moncada ceases to qualify as a prospect.

Add that to young stars already with the major league team like Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Devon Travis  and there are few teams with a brighter future.

#3 – The Fans

The Jays were third in attendance in 2016, and are poised to be top-5 in 2017 despite a disappointing year.  So Toronto more than passes the fan quantity test.

And the Toronto lovefest with Munenori Kawasaki shows not only that Jays fans are more than butts in seats, but also that they can embrace a Japanese player (I wonder if Otani can dance?)

#4 – The City

A player moving from Japan to a strange city might like to have some level of familiarity to ease the transition.  He might want to eat in a Japanese restaurant from time to time, or to visit one of the world’s top Japanese-language Film Festivals,  or perhaps a tiny-bit-homesick young man might want to attend a Japanese cultural festival. Toronto’s 20,000+ Japanese-Canadians not only demonstrates a vibrant community, but also a welcoming environment.

And for a young man who would like to experience different foods, cultures, and experiences without leaving his home town, where better to live than the most diverse city in the world? Especially when Toronto is also ranked the 16th best world city to live in (as the Telegraph put it: “Put simply: Toronto is fun”)?

#5 – The Country

The Legatum Institute in the UK publishes an annual index which ranks countries on individual rights and social tolerance.  Canada ranked #1 in 2015 and #2 in 2016 (Luxembourg, in case you were wondering).  By comparison, the USA ranked #26 – just behind South Africa and Argentina.

The US is a great country, without question, but it is going through a difficult time right now.  Even if a millionaire sports star might be safe from immigration challenges himself, he might find the atmosphere surrounding other immigrants troubling.

#6 – The Compromise

Canadians are said (usually tongue-in-cheek) to be world experts at compromise solutions.  Might some time in Canada be a useful stepping stone, even if Otani ultimately prefers to move to the USA?

#7 – The Weather

Last, and most definitely least … Otani currently lives in Sapporo, a Japanese city at latitude 43° North.  Sapporo is a true four-season city – in fact, it hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics.  Toronto is a four-season Canadian city at (you guessed it) 43° North, with a more-than-similar average monthly temperature.  Thing about seasons is, they can be addictive -California weather can get boring, and Atlanta/Texas 30°+ summer days can get painful for a 6’5″ 220 lb athlete who is not used to them.

Next: Blue Jays: Time to start talking extension with Stroman

The bottom line

Many big-name stars choose to sign with US teams.  But that decision is often based on familiarity with the States, or for financial (endorsement, etc) reasons.  Otani may be the strange beast for whom those reasons are not compelling.  If so, Toronto might stand a better chance than many realize – or believe.