Mazz: Shohei Ohtani is using the Red Sox
See that grin in the photo above? If you ask me, Shohei Ohtani is playing the Red Sox.
And by playing, we don’t mean playing against them. We mean playing them – and you? – for a fool.
Free agency in baseball started roughly two weeks ago, of course, but intensity is picking up with the news that Ohtani, among others, rejected a qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Angels yesterday and cemented his place on the open market. And despite the fact that Ohtani won’t be able to pitch until 2025 after undergoing elbow surgery, he remains the whitest of whales, a two-way talent baseball has not seen since Babe Ruth. Further, there have been reports that Ohtani also may be willing to sign a short-term contract with an exceptionally high average annual value this offseason, a decision that would bring more suitors (like the Red Sox?) into play and allow Ohtani to re-enter the market within a few years.
Sure, it all sounds good.
“Ohtani, according to multiple sources, has expressed affinity for certain teams and cities in the past. He deeply respects the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ways, their ability to develop players and their progressive coaching approach. He appreciates the Texas Rangers – not just for their 2023 World Series victory but the fact that early in his career, when he was playing in Japan, they expressed strong interest in him. He loves visiting Boston and has a fondness for Fenway Park.”
Obviously, pay attention to that last line. He loves visiting Boston and has a fondness for Fenway Park. As Michael Felger said on the air year yesterday, so does Aunt Millie who lives in Vermont. That doesn’t mean she wants to play for the Red Sox. In Passan’s writing above, Ohtani’s links to the Dodgers and Rangers are centered on respect for the organizations, both of whom can now be classified as winners. The description of Boston makes it sound like he wants to spend the All-Star break on Nantucket and maybe take a tour of Fenway on the way back to the airport.
Tell you what … let’s go back to September, when the esteemed Peter Gammons first linked Ohtani to the Red Sox. In this tweet, Gammons similarly offered up a reason Ohtani might be lured to Boston – his link to New Balance.
See a pattern here? Ohtani wants Boston because he likes the city. And the ballpark. And New Balance. But nowhere does it saying anything about respect for the Red Sox and their ability to win, which should concern you. And if you think the Red Sox are going to outbid the field for what could be the biggest contract in the history of North American team sports, you obviously haven’t been paying attention. When it comes to free agents, the Red Sox now seem to operate with a clearly diagnosed fear of commitment. Talk about Failure to Launch.
So fine, Ohtani is an obvious longshot. Big deal. But here’s what should concern you if you’re willing to extrapolate. The Red Sox’ biggest need this offseason is obvious: starting pitching. The market is deep. But as Passan (and others) have noted, the list of wealthy suitors is long, including – as Passan puts it – everybody. That means the bidding will escalate. And it means that money may not be the greatest determining factor. If everyone is willing to go to absurd lengths – and, despite the Red Sox’ desperation, we can’t even be certain of that – the pursuits for Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell or Aaron Nola might come down to things the Red Sox really lack. Like organizational credibility, for instance.
After all, in the last 10 years, they have had almost as many heads of baseball operations (four) as last-place finishes (five).
Oh, one more thing: If Shohei Ohtani likes “visiting Boston” and has “a fondness” for Fenway Park (where has a .310 career average), he can still keep both as opponent.
And in the process, he can still hit against the Red Sox pitching staff.
Now that sounds appealing.