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Ranking the Mariners against the field for Shohei Ohtani’s services

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A totally legit, highly mathematical, not at all made-up and biased rubric

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In case you, like me, didn’t have power for the past two days and, unlike me, didn’t blow through a month’s worth of mobile data in the space of a day, Shoehei Ohtani has narrowed his list of potential teams to seven, and the Mariners are in the hunt. Yesterday, John took a look at what getting Ohtani might mean for the franchise, and if you haven’t read that yet, go, shoo, what are you waiting for. Now, as Ohtani meets with potential suitors, the mad speculation begins. Will Ohtani prefer AL or NL? How important will a track record with Japanese stars be? Does the signing bonus matter?

As a very ham-handed first swipe at weighing these issues, I sorted the questions from Ohtani’s questionnaire/what we’ve seen him seem to favor so far, and then assigned a value from 1-5 (5 being high) for each category. As rubrics go, it’s admittedly even less complex than one I designed to assess the work of third graders describing the water cycle, but would you really be surprised if the Padres forgot condensation? There have been a few early pieces trying to break down the field: this one, by Grant Brisbee, offers a multiplicity of lenses through which to view the pursuit and probably should have been called Thirteen Ways of Looking at Ohtani. Jon Heyman typed a bunch of capital letters to file this ranking. The Hardball Times published this deep dive algorithm a few weeks ago, but we know so much more now. I mean we don’t. But we do. So let’s dream.

The categories:

Geographic preference:

It’s pretty clear from looking at the final list of suitors that Ohtani desires to play on the West Coast, also known as the Best Coast. For that reason, all the West Coast-based teams got 4s, and the two that aren’t got 1s. The Mariners got an extra point for being closest to Japan; if you don’t think the extra couple hours on a plane are that much of a factor, feel free to mentally deduct a point from their total.

Japanese connections:

Rumor has it that Ohtani might want to minimize comparisons to other Japanese players, but that doesn’t mean that an organization wholly without any Japanese ties is preferable. Have Japanese players come to the organization and found success? Is the infrastructure in place for a smooth transition for Ohtani? Has the organization outwardly expressed interest in the Japanese market and building connections there? The standout here is really the Padres, who have stocked their front office with Japanese talent and executives familiar with Japan and Ohtani himself, and are helmed by A.J. Preller, who was a driving force to bring Darvish to the Rangers. The Angels have no particular track record in developing Japanese stars, but GM Billy Eppler was key in scouting Tanaka when he was with New York, and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer recruited from Japan when they were part of the Red Sox organization. All the other clubs have a longer history with Japanese players, currently have Japanese players, and/or employ Japanese-speaking front office or coaching staff. Thanks to the Yankees’ love of all things Boone, the Giants still offer the Japanese-speaking Hensley Meulens as a bench coach, which might put them right on the heels of the Padres.

Ohtani’s role:

I stand firm in my belief that only the AL will allow Ohtani the flexibility he needs as he attempts to re-shape baseball into something we haven’t seen before. It’s cool that Bruce Bochy is ready to pull out his art set and dream up different ways to get Ohtani plate appearances, but Ohtani is coming off a year of injuries to his lower half and will be adjusting to a new schedule in a new league in a new city. Ohtani hasn’t played regularly in the outfield since 2014 and despite his plus athleticism and speed, running him out there, even for a couple of innings, just doesn’t seem practical. For this reason, I gave the NL teams no higher than a 3 if they had both pitching and outfield vacancies. The Cubs and the Dodgers might need Ohtani on their pitching staff, but they don’t have room for all the young, talented outfielders they have already. Is Ohtani really going to be taking at-bats from Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Kike Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, or [grits teeth] Chris Taylor?

However, it must be pointed out that four of the seven teams Ohtani is considering are NL teams, and Mike Petriello laid out a pretty convincing case for why the NL might actually be better for Ohtani. I disagree, mostly because Ohtani’s experience has been in AL-style NPB, but if you’d like to reconfigure these numbers based on pure need and not AL/NL, the Mariners have actual vacancies in both rotation and outfield/DH, as do the Giants and the Rangers. (Unless you’re a big Mike Minor fan.) The Padres need him because they’re the Padres. The Cubs and Dodgers need him as an arm, but not in the outfield, as do the Angels, who also don’t have space at DH unless you’re prepared to see Albert Pujols: First Base Monolith a couple times a week. Which, to be honest, I might be.

Player Development:

If you paid attention to your AFL champion Peoria Javelinas, you know that the Padres have a group of fun, young prospects—Luis Urias, a contact-monster, is my pet favorite. However, the Padres have so far not been able to turn that development into anything at the major league level. Going into both 2016 and 2017, they ranked dead last on Bleacher Report’s homegrown prospects list. There’s hope for what’s coming up, but it’s hard to justify inflating their score too much until there’s some production at the MLB level. After a significant gap, the Rangers are next-lowest, with their collection of free-swinging two-true-outcome hitters. (And Jurickson Profar. Won’t someone please find a home for Jurickson Profar.) The Mariners were right about in the middle of the pack last year when Bleacher Report made their list, and should be around there again once the 2017 season figures in. One Kyle Seager and a half of a James Paxton can do so much, sprinkled liberally with some Zunino dingers. Mmmm, maple barbecue parmigana. The Dodgers and Cubs are obviously, annoyingly good at developing talent; the Giants have been, although I dropped them a little because their farm has gotten pretty thin, pretty fast.

Player health:

I used the table from Eno Sarris’s article to rank the remaining teams by overall health over the past five years, and then assigned each team a ranking 1-5, with two clubs getting no points. The injury-ridden 2017 squad doesn’t hurt the Mariners too badly in overall health, surprisingly, and they ranked first among these teams; a position I’m comfortable leaving them in thanks to the hiring of Dr. Martin. The Dodgers and the Rangers, ranking at the bottom, received no points. If you wanted to, you could award the Dodgers a point for being able to keep their hitters relatively healthy, and there’s also an argument that Epstein and the Cubs have been doing enough with player health recently to push them up a little. If you wanted to argue that the Rangers should get negative points, that’s probably also fair.

Cultural assimilation/relevant marketplace characteristics:

Honestly I just sort of made these numbers up. Significant Japanese population? You get a 5 for cultural assimilation. Except you, Anaheim, because you’re a soulless hellhole and smell like an air freshener. LA markets get a 5 for “relevant marketplace characteristics,” which I assume is code for “ability to get sweet endorsement deal” because, Hollywood; everyone else gets a 4 because there are no real small markets here, just small actors. Except you, Arlington. You’re like, the fifth or sixth Texas city anyone thinks of.

Signing bonus:

We know it’s not about the money, but there is a difference between 300,000 and a million-plus, and an even bigger difference to three million-plus, which is what the Rangers could pay. They got a 5, everyone with a million-ish got a 4, and the minimum clubs got 3s. Fun with Zillow: how much San Francisco real estate could the Giants’ $300,000 bonus get Ohtani? And this was two years ago. Seattle: a relative bargain!

The results:

Shohei in the City

Team Geographic Preference Japanese connections Ohtani's role Player Development Player Health Cultural Assimilation Relevant Marketplace Characteristics Signing Bonus Totals
Team Geographic Preference Japanese connections Ohtani's role Player Development Player Health Cultural Assimilation Relevant Marketplace Characteristics Signing Bonus Totals
Giants 4 4 3 4 4 5 4 3 31
Dodgers 4 4 2 5 0 5 5 3 28
Padres 4 5 3 2 1 4 4 3 26
Angels 4 2 4 3 2 4 5 4 28
Cubs 1 2 2 5 3 1 4 3 21
Rangers 1 3 4 2 0 1 3 5 19
Mariners 5 4 4 3 5 5 4 4 34

Wow, look at that, my totally unbiased rubric happened to spit out the Mariners as the best choice! Even if you dock them that point for being a teensy bit closer to Japan they still come out ahead. My biggest surprises: how well the Giants did, and how poorly the Padres did. The Padres are my sneaky choice to get Ohtani, which is clearly why I sandbagged them in this rubric. Something to watch out for: the Angels share many of the same marketplace characteristics as the Dodgers, but offer the DH option. I admit I haven’t thought much about them as potential suitors for Ohtani, but beware Mike Scioscia, he who works in darkness, who will not let you know his name.

Feel free to recalculate my (inflated, highly suspect) math and see what you come up with. Who are your front-runners? We’re all wrong, obviously, but it is fun to guess.