Everyone’s been parsing the various questions from the written exam Shohei Ohtani’s agency distributed to every MLB team since the moment it went public, but maybe some of the answers have been right in front of us for months. Though some of his responses may have seemed frivolous at the time, Ohtani’s February interview with MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi appears revelatory in hindsight.
While the answers are generally of a terse nature common in cases where a language barrier is present, they paint a picture of what Ohtani values and what he might be looking for as he chooses an MLB team. Or, perhaps more accurately, as he chooses a new hometown.
And those values may give Chicago and the Cubs a leg up on the competition, though the advantage is very minuscule and requires you to be more than a little liberal in your extrapolation of Ohtani’s responses. There is, however, one team/city combo that has been very clearly eliminated from the running for the Japanese superstar.
Check the link above for the full interview, but follow along below as we present clips from the Q&A, along with some commentary [all emphasis mine on Ohtani’s answers].
MLB.com: When you come to MLB, how important is it for you to continue both hitting and pitching?
Ohtani: I’m not really sure how the American managers and scouts would rate my hitting compared to the way I’m rated in Japan. I would like to do both if I can.
MLB.com: If you played in a league with no designated hitter, are there field positions you can play?
Ohtani: I have played in right field in the past, but I’m not sure how that would compare to an MLB team. Pitching is more of my strength.
This lends a good deal of credence to the idea we presented the other day that Ohtani (who earlier said even he doesn’t know the “correct” spelling of his surname) isn’t going to demand that he get a certain number of at-bats or that an AL team has a clear advantage when it comes to landing him.
MLB.com: Do you think you’ll remember those teams (that recruited you out of high school) when it’s time to go to MLB?
Ohtani: The situation is different from four years ago. It might be the same teams, but possibly not the same personnel. So everyone will have the same shot.
This followed an answer in which Ohtani said the “the Giants, Rangers and Dodgers were being the most aggressive in scouting [him out of high school].”
MLB.com: What are the most important factors in deciding on an MLB team?
Ohtani: The people on the team and in charge of the team is what matters most. I need to have a feeling of wanting to play for them.
It may just be a pipe dream or my personal bias, but this is an area in which the Cubs could really achieve some leverage. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are incredibly driven and have proven very savvy when it comes to discerning what makes players tick both on and off the field.
MLB.com: Would it be better for you and Darvish to be on separate teams?
Ohtani: Being on the same team would be great, but being on separate teams would also be great, because I would get to face him.
Morosi tweeted Friday that some MLB execs believe that Ohtani “may actually prefer to sign with a club that doesn’t already have a Japanese star,” which follows somewhat with the answer above. It also follows with something we theorized a short while back that the whole “cultural assimilation” business might not be about Ohtani wanting a soft landing, so to speak, with a large Japanese contingent.
It may be a matter of Ohtani wanting to find the best place to have what he considers to be the most unique American experience. As cliched as that sounds, the point is that he may actually want to get out of his comfort zone and do something different from what he has in the past, to test himself has both a person and a baseball player.
The fact that he’s leaving NPB and coming over two years early speaks to that, and his next two answers provide the strongest evidence yet that Chicago would be an incredibly apt landing spot.
MLB.com: Is there anything that makes you nervous about coming to the United States to play?
Ohtani: I would be nervous about everything. It’s a new country, new professional life. There’s a lot to be nervous about.
MLB.com: What do you like about daily life in the United States?
Ohtani: I’ve only been to Hawaii and Arizona, but I like the huge steaks.
Onetime home of the Union Stock Yards and now home to approximately 1.67 steak houses per city block, Chicago’s urban jungle is at the top of the heap when it comes to red meat. Don’t let those Texans steer you wrong, the Windy City is clearly the ideal location for the discerning carnivore.
If it’s huge steaks Ohtani desires, he’ll be hard-pressed to do better than Chicago. This is probably what’ll put the Cubs over the top in the decision-making process, all things considered. Okay, so maybe that’s a gross overstatement. But while we can’t really declare any one city as the clear favorite to lure Ohtani, we can already eliminate one from the running.
MLB.com: What cities are you curious about and would like to see?
Ohtani: The Rocky Balboa statue, I want a picture of that.
MLB.com: Philadelphia has a baseball team, you know.
Ohtani: No, I just want to visit there.
Guess the man doesn’t take too kindly to having his steaks all sliced up and covered wit’ onions and Cheez Whiz.