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What is Shohei Otani looking for in a MLB team?

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Here are some new clues.

Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Japanese star Shohei Ohtani is wasting no time getting presentations from the seven MLB “finalists” on his list:

Undoubtedly, he’ll meet with the Cubs soon; fewer than three weeks remain until the December 22 deadline by which he must sign.

This English-language article by Jim Allen, a longtime baseball writer for the Kyodo News in Japan, lays out some of the criteria Ohtani might be looking for in a major-league team. The Cubs are mentioned here:

Ohtani has spent the first 10 days of February the past two years in the Phoenix area, where the Nippon Ham Fighters held the first phase of their spring training at the Padres' spring training complex in Peoria.

When the Fighters played a practice game against South Korea's KT Wiz on Feb. 8, Ohtani did his rehab work that day at the Cubs' spring camp site and was impressed by the new facility's size and training equipment.

Obviously, that’s not the only factor he’d be considering, but given the fact that he’s already seen the Cubs’ spring complex at Sloan Park and liked what he saw, that’s certainly a point in the Cubs’ favor.

The article continues:

He appreciates structure.

"With the Fighters, he had a lot of structure," a major league scout told Kyodo News on Tuesday. "He could be looking for that, for a team with a solid plan."

Although Ohtani is mature and intelligent, he has also led a fairly sheltered life as a pro ball player, living at the team's training facilities in Sapporo and rarely venturing out.

The Cubs certainly have that sort of plan. The Cubs ought to give Ohtani a copy of Tom Verducci’s “The Cubs Way,” a book that explains Theo & Co.’s plan in detail.

Obviously other teams can offer similar things. But these are certainly the sort of things that the Cubs can make a point of in their presentation to him.

This note in the Kyodo News article seems important:

And to those in the American media who a year ago predicted Ohtani would never move to the States this winter because of the financial cost, the scout said, "The one thing I do know is that it's not about money."

So even though the Cubs can offer him no more than $300,000 as a signing bonus, and other teams still in the running can offer more (the Rangers top that list at $3.535 million), it seems that Ohtani is the rarest of modern athletes, someone for whom money is not the No. 1 consideration. This part of the article would seem to confirm that:

Although Ohtani said at his last press conference in Japan on Nov. 11 that he is confident in his ability to adapt to the majors, he also indicated he doesn't think he's a finished product as either a hitter or a pitcher, but that's his goal.

Part of that is natural humility. But Ohtani has spoken with Japanese major leaguers and seems to have a solid understanding that he is trying to bridge a huge gap. MLB presents a different challenge for hitters and the travel schedule is vastly more arduous than in Japan.

One asset the Cubs have that could be really important in helping Ohtani through all this is Joe Maddon. As you know, Maddon often thinks outside the box in putting together lineups and strategies. He’d certainly be open to anything Ohtani would need or want to be successful in MLB. And the note about the travel schedule is important: The Cubs have one of the easiest travel regimes of any team in baseball and flew the second-fewest miles of any team in 2017. Every year, the Cubs have between 11 and 13 road games (depending on which interleague division they’re playing) either locally in Chicago (against the White Sox) or a bus ride away (Brewers in Milwaukee). Meanwhile, several of the West Coast teams that are Ohtani’s finalists are at the top of the longest-miles list.

The Cubs would seem to have as good a chance to sign him as any of the other six teams.