Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani

Texas Rangers Court Shohei Ohtani, the Prize of Baseball's Offseason

An eight-man delegation of Texas Rangers officials and personnel met with superstar Japanese pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani in Los Angeles on Tuesday, according to multiple reports from beat writers. The Rangers are one of seven teams remaining in the hunt for Ohtani, along with the Mariners, Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Giants and Cubs.

Last week, after being told that his team had been eliminated from the ongoing sweepstakes, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Ohtani was looking for a small-market team on the West Coast with which to sign his first MLB contract. While that reasoning explains why the Yankees and Boston Red Sox were among the first squads removed from Ohtani's list, it doesn't explain the continued presence of the two Los Angeles teams and the Cubs. The Rangers, situated in the nation's fifth-biggest media market and in the southwest, are an even bigger outlier.

Unlike the Dodgers and the Angels, the Rangers couldn't offer the 23-year-old Ohtani the quickest flights available from the U.S. to Japan, something his team has identified as a priority. They don't offer the immediate chance to contribute to a ready-made World Series contender, either, as is the case with the Dodgers and Cubs. The Rangers' appeal to Ohtani, exemplified by the crew they sent to his agent's office in Los Angeles, is more under the radar, but there's a reason the team is quietly confident about inking one of baseball's unique talents.

Along with Rangers co-owner Ray Davis and General Manager Jon Daniels, the group that met with Ohtani comprised Jeff Banister, manager; Josh Boyd, assistant general manager; Jamie Reed, senior director of medical operations; Jose Vazquez, strength and conditioning coach; and Japanese scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe. There are several tells about the Rangers' pitch in that list.

Banister's potential contributions in discussions with Ohtani are essential. Ohtani, the best pitcher and one of the best hitters in the Japanese league over the past half-decade, wants to continue playing both ways after crossing the Pacific. The Rangers are in perfect position to allow him to do so after the departure of designated hitter and first baseman Mike Napoli. Banister signaled a willingness in October to allow Ohtani to pitch and hit regularly.

While Ohtani is capable of playing the outfield, he hasn't done so regularly since 2013. Add in the increased injury risk of allowing an asset as valuable as Ohtani to play in the field, and the American League teams still in the running have a marked advantage over the Padres, Dodgers, Giants and Cubs.

Boyd, Furakawa and Watabe are the keys to the Rangers' hard sell. Banister, the manager, could tell Ohtani anything he wants in hopes of signing a player worth more than $200 million on the open market to a contract that will be worth the Major League minimum from 2018-20 because league rules for international free agents. Boyd and the scouts, however, have built a relationship with Ohtani since the Rangers' efforts to sign him out of high school in 2012.

Stir in Yu Darvish's apparent comfort with the Rangers organization, if not the Dallas media — Darvish is one of Ohtani's role models — and the Rangers' efforts to tailor their roster to Ohtani, and the team has a strong recruiting pitch. So far during the offseason, the Rangers have agreed to contracts with Doug Fister and Mike Minor, both talented pitchers with injury histories who'd be well suited to a six-man starting rotation. Six-man rotations are typical in the Japanese league but have been tried infrequently in MLB.

MLB's posting agreement requires Ohtani to make a decision about the team for which he'll play next season by Dec. 22.

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