Ohtani free agency sweepstakes off to a clandestine start at MLB’s general manager meetings

By DAVID BRANDT – AP Baseball Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The race to add two-way basketball superstar Shohei Ohtani in a major free agency deal is at an all-time high.

“A special player, that’s all I’ll say,” said Chris Young, general manager of the World Series champion Texas Rangers.

“We’ll be interested in looking at everything that’s available that we can improve,” New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

“We may ask some questions, but I can’t tell you we’re diving in,” Houston Astros general manager Dana Brown said.

30 in total Major League Baseball General managers have gathered this week at the baseball GM meetings in Scottsdale. Privately, they are surely discussing the developing Ohtani sweepstakes, which could cost the winning team as much as $500 million. But in public, questions about the potentially historic bid are met with careful statements.

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Even the team that has used the Japanese impression for the past six seasons – the Los Angeles Angels – does not seem to have a good read on his future.

“He’s going to get a lot of attention and I understand why,” Angels GM Perry Minasian said. “Great player. We’ll see how the offseason develops. We have our plan and we are going to try to execute that plan and see where it leads us.”

Ohtani is one of the most interesting cases of baseball’s free agency system since it began in 1976.

He is 29 years old and just produced one of the best two-way seasons in MLB history, batting .304 with 44 homers and also a 10-5 record on the mound with a 3.14 ERA.

It is unclear how much value he will provide as a reliever in the coming seasons. He had Tommy John surgery in September for the second time in six years, and the list of pitchers who have returned successfully after after doing the procedure twice relatively short.

Recent World Series winners Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon and Daniel Hudson have been a successful handful. Two-time All-Star Jason Isringhausen had the surgery three times and still came back to have several more solid seasons. Current Dodgers star Walker Buehler – who recently had a second TJ surgery – hopes to join that group.

Even if Ohtani can’t put up much money on the mound, he’s one of the game’s best hitters. He’s also a good enough athlete that he could be an option for first base or the outfield as he gets older.

There is also an off-field component that cannot be fully quantified. Ohtani has achieved a celebrity status that few current football players can even imagine, and his arrival in any city would certainly increase fan interest.

Instead of setting the free agent market for this offseason, Ohtani is a market of his own.

“He brings so much to the game, so much excitement, he has fans, he’s an exciting player,” said Brown, the Astros GM. We might ask some questions, but I can’t tell you we’re diving in.”

Then he said what pretty much every GM in Arizona was saying this week.

“We will definitely ask questions, though.”

Ohtani is this year’s crown jewels Free agent class,, which is a little short on players who change franchises, especially among hitters. Cody Bellinger is a former MVP who had a great comeback year with the Cubs. Four-time Gold Glove winner Matt Chapman is a quality third baseman. Tim Anderson is a two-time All-Star looking for a change of scenery.

The pitching scene is a bit stronger, with veterans Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto on the market.

But none of them come close to delivering the juice — on or off the field — that Ohtani provides.

Still, half a billion bucks? That’s a lot of money.

Former Angels teammate Mike Trout has the richest contract in sports history at $426.5 million over 12 years, signed in 2019.

“You don’t base an offseason on one player,” Minasian said. “You have to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, so on and so forth. We are going to work as we always do. We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to have a lot of conversations and we’ll see how everything goes.”

The Seattle Mariners are among a handful of teams that would be a logical fit for Ohtani, given the franchise’s upward trajectory, the city’s history with former Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki and its relatively large Asian population.

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto agreed that the Mariners have a lot to offer — though he wasn’t talking specifically about Ohtani.

“I think that’s with any free agent flirting,” Dipoto said. “This is the only time in a baseball player’s life that you are recruiting like a college program. You want to sell your city, you want to sell your vision, you want to sell your people.”

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