Blue Jays, Ohtani, And 7 Questions

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

Shohei Ohtani’s agent recently sent a memo to all 30 teams, asking them to answer 7 questions about why Ohtani should sign with their team.  

On Friday night, Shohei Ohtani‘s agent sent a memo to all 30 MLB teams.  The memo asked each team to answer 7 questions, essentially making the case as to why Ohtani should sign with their team  Interestingly, CAA Sports explicitly asked teams to not include financial details.

There is an old saying that the questions define the answer.  The answers that a person gets depend on the questions he asks, and the way he asks them.  So these seven questions give a valuable insight into the way that Ohtani is thinking, and the things that are (most?) important to him.

So, channeling my inner Shapkins, here are my suggestions for the Blue Jays’ response (summarized – I suspect that teams’ answers will be far more detailed!)

1. An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter

“I think over the next few years I’m going to grow up a lot. I think my fastball is going to get faster and my control is going to get better. I don’t know how fast it can be. But I think I can improve my mechanics. I threw 165 [km/h] last year. I think maybe I can throw 168. If I hit 168, 170 [nearly 106 mph], I’m going to be very happy. It’s going to be very enjoyable.” … Ohtani

I would suggest that the Jays be honest, rather than flattering.  Ohtani has said that he does not see himself as a finished product, but rather that he is still growing and learning.

The Jays are reported to have scouted Ohtani extensively.  If they can provide insights about areas for potential improvement that other teams do not recognize, or that other teams dismiss or downplay, it might well make an impression on a young man who gave up (potentially) nine figures of income to come to the MLB two years earlier, just because he wanted to play with the very best.

2.  Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities

Some writers have said that, with their new high performance department and their focus on the science of sports, the Jays might be leading the pack.  This could be a powerful selling point for the Jays at two levels.  First, because the high performance team will be working with Ohtani, supporting his quest for greatness.  But there is a second selling point, which might be even more powerful.  The fact that the Jays made the effort to develop a high performance team long before Ohtani’s availability gives an insight into the team’s philosophy and commitment to player development and optimization.

3.  Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities

The Jays should focus on the Major League and spring training facilities here, as it is unlikely that Ohtani will spend much time in the minors.  The Jays can point to the new spring training facility in Dunedin, with its high-tech support and enhanced fan experience.  They can also point to the $250-400 million renovation planned for the Rogers Centre over the next few years.

4.  Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation

As I said in an earlier Ohtani article:

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.

5.  A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization

Ohtani very much wants to both pitch and play the field.   Some writers have interpreted this as meaning that he would DH when not pitching.  But this might not be want Ohtani wants – he has said that he would like to play right field, the same position he played in Japan.  The Jays have the “advantage” (whimper)  of an open right field position (can you see the Yankees asking Judge to move … or the BoSox asking Betts?).  So the Jays could offer Ohtani both significant time in the field and time at DH if he needs to acclimate to MLB pitching.

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6.  Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play

Here is where the Jays could have a significant advantage.  Toronto was named the most culturally diverse city in the world by BBC Radio, and was ranked #4 on the list of most livable cities in the world.  So it would be a great place for anyone to live, especially someone coming from another culture.

Regarding the franchise – the Jays are the only team to have three players (Vladdy, Bo and Dan Jansen) on the first-team all-minors All-Star team this year.  So, when added to players like Stroman, Sanchez, Travis and Alford, the future is bright.   In terms of the fanbase, the Jays’ total attendance of 3.2 million was fourth highest in baseball in 2017 (third highest in 2016).

7.  Relevant marketplace characteristics

The Jays are unique in baseball in that they represent a whole country.  This is reflected in their market statistics.  For example, in 2017 the average viewership for a New York Yankees game was an all-time high of 343,000, driven largely by a successful season and Aaron Judge‘s heroics.   The Jays, by comparison, averaged 722,400  – more than twice as much – despite a season of terrible luck in which they were largely out of contention by July (in 2016, the Jays averaged over 1 million viewers per game).  Now, in one sense this is an apples-to-oranges comparison as the Jays’ viewership is national while the Yankees are local, but still …eyeballs are eyeballs.

Next: Limited options in the back-up catching market

The bottom line

I said it before and I will say it again – writers who say that a heavily-sedated sloth has a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby than the Blue Jays have of landing Otani are misreading the man … and underestimating the team.  The fact that Shohei’s first (and most important?) questions deal with fanbase, organization and the opportunity to excel all bode well for a team like the Jays.