The typical format of these free-agent profiles is simple. There’s a section where we talk about why the free agent is a good fit for the Giants, which is followed by a section where we explore the downside of that free agent, and it ends with a conclusion. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the facts of available free agents.
This format will not work for Shohei Ohtani. To look for a downside, you have to care about the dividends of part-owners in the event of an injury. You have to worry about the investments of people who will never not be rich, regardless of how those investments do. Most importantly, you have to believe that acquiring one of the biggest sports superstars in the world would be a bad decision for a team that’s in desperate need of star power and reasons to come to the ballpark.
Using this traditional format would end up something like this:
Why the Giants would want Shohei Ohtani
[4,000 words about how he has a chance to hoist an entire franchise on his shoulders, like Barry Bonds did after the 1992 season]
Why the Giants wouldn’t want Shohei Ohtani
[A bunch of mewling about how the payroll in 2029 could make free agency more difficult for the new GM, Pat Burrell]
The Giants should sign Shohei Ohtani if they have the chance.
That would be a painfully obvious way to approach this very important, possibly franchise-defining topic. Instead, let’s flip the format around. This offseason isn’t about the Giants deciding that they want Ohtani; it’s about Ohtani deciding which team will fit him best. To recycle a line from a previous article, when Ohtani got his choice of 30 major-league teams, he chose the city that smells like convention centers and regret. He did so for personal reasons we don’t need to understand, and it shows that his motivations don’t have to align with the conventional wisdom. Maybe he doesn’t want to go to the Dodgers because he heard (correctly) that Dodger Dogs contain trace elements of uranium-238, and proximity to them can affect a person’s health, even if they aren’t consumed. You don’t know what he’s thinking. Nobody does.
But why, oh why, would he choose the Giants?
It’s time to write a free-agent profile for the Giants, instead.
Why Shohei Ohtani would want to sign with the Giants
You’re disgruntled. The Giants have offered nothing but agony for your wild offseason plans, hopes and dreams since Bonds signed. From Carlos Correa’s ankle to Giancarlo Stanton’s no-trade clause, there’s always a reason why the Giants don’t get their main target. There’s always a better offer, a better fit, a better destination. When you think about the Giants’ efforts to acquire a superstar, you are Eeyore, with a flat tire on the side of the road and AAA not answering the phone, as rain clouds start to gather overhead.
Understandable. But I regret to inform you that the Giants organization still holds a lot of appeal compared to other teams around the league. They still have the best ballpark in baseball. They still play in a great part of the country, assuming you don’t watch cable news. They still have a rich franchise history that few teams can match. The San Francisco Giants, as a concept, still holds enormous cachet. Sorry for the good news.
But it’s also likely that Ohtani doesn’t give a rip about most of that. Sure, it counts that the Giants are the team of Willie Mays and Buster Posey, and that they play in a nice park and draw well when they win. He’s looking to win, though. He’s looking to win now. He was just on the Angels, a team that’s been cursed since 2002, when they threw a live monkey into an active volcano, don’t bother looking it up, it’s true, per industry sources. While it was cool that he was able to be the best version of himself and prove that he could dominate Major League Baseball on both sides of the ball, the Angels didn’t finish over .500 once the whole time they had him.
That’s absolutely wild. Ohtani was worth 10 wins this year, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Didn’t matter. Every year he was with the Angels, they had a winning percentage under .500, even in the freakishly short 2020 season. He wants to be with a team that won’t screw up that reliably.
I also regret to inform you that the Giants look like a team with a plan. Their top prospects are starting to assert themselves, and there’s a compelling system behind them. The Giants also don’t have an outsized abundance of long-term contracts to worry about, and that’s the eternal dream: get the young players, underpaid and under contract, then spend the savings on market-price veterans. There aren’t a lot of big-market teams in a position to do that better than the Giants, and they won’t even have to go into the luxury-tax penalty box after this season.
More than that, it’s a team with a need. It’s a fan base willing to announce absolute fealty to The New Guy. He’s not competing with the various homegrown superstars of the Braves, and he’s not joining a team with Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, ostensibly to form a West Coast Avengers. He’s not even sharing the spotlight with Mike Trout, even though injuries dimmed that light a bit as his Angels career progressed.
There is no ambiguity if Ohtani comes to San Francisco. He’s the focus. He’s the focus they’ve been waiting for. He’s the player that will get people out of the suburbs now that nobody works downtown anymore. The Giants have had recent success, although “recent” is subjective, so he doesn’t have to worry about the burden of breaking some weird organizational curse.
The Giants need players who can make an immediate impact to contend, but they also need to mix in players from the next generation. In a best-case scenario, the 2024 roster would have a “You Gotta Like These Kids” vibe from 1986 mixed with the “I Can’t Believe We’re Actually Doing This” vibe from from 2014.
Ohtani would be the anchor who could allow for this possibility. Can’t you see it? Ohtani becoming the first 30-homer Giants slugger since Bonds, as players like Marco Luciano, Patrick Bailey, Luis Matos and Kyle Harrison thrive around him? He wouldn’t be the only veteran on the team — far from it — but he could be the star with the gravitational pull in the middle of the roster.
And then, in 2025, maybe Ohtani pitches a bunch. This is a good place to remind you that if he’s looking for an organization that can accommodate his unorthodox pitching schedule, the Giants are an example of the kind of team that can make it work. Does he want to pitch once a week, as NPB players are accustomed to? The Giants are set up well for that. They’ll have Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn looking for innings already. By the time Ohtani recovers from right elbow UCL surgery, the Giants should have even more pitching depth. They’re one of the only organizations that can allow both Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto the ability to stick with whatever routine they’ve grown accustomed to, with an opportunity.
Where else can Ohtani get all of this? If we’re talking about teams with a proven ability to adjust and defy tradition when it comes to pitching chicanery, there are more than a couple teams who qualify. When it comes to teams with the ability to spend, there are more than a couple teams that qualify. When it comes to teams with an ascendant farm system, there are more than a couple teams that qualify. When it comes to a major-league roster that isn’t in rebuild mode and can contend right away, there are more than a couple teams that qualify.
Overlay all of these arguments, though, and you get a much smaller center of the Venn diagram, with the Giants, somehow, in that middle. The Giants also won’t have a Freddie Freeman or Aaron Judge or Ronald Acuña or Mike Trout or Corey Seager to take attention away from one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, and maybe that’s something Ohtani is thinking about. He would instantly become the focus of the entire franchise, if that’s important to him. And he’ll be in a situation where the team can spend and develop around him. Better than the Angels, at least. Maybe not better than the Dodgers, but remember the uranium in the hot dogs. Seems very, very unsafe.
Bob Melvin seems nice enough, too. He’s not Joe Maddon or Mike Scioscia, that’s for sure. He seems to be the kind of manager that a team hires when they’re serious. The Giants are apparently serious. Melvin doesn’t hurt the recruitment process, at the very least.
Does all of this lead to a case-closed kind of definitive answer? Oh, heck no. It’s just a pitch. There’s a lot of spaghetti being through to the wall in this argument, but the other teams around baseball have also been boiling pasta. Some of them have been salting the water, even. The Giants have been adding olive oil to the water, which is highly controversial. Might turn a player like Ohtani off.
If you’re looking for an argument for the Giants, however, it’s not exactly abstract. They can win, they can win sustainably and they can keep the perpetual motion machine going once it starts.
Once it starts.
Why Shohei Ohtani wouldn’t want to sign with the Giants
That perpetual motion machine hasn’t started yet. It’s not guaranteed to start. Luciano could strike out 40 percent of the time; Harrison could walk 15 percent of the batters he faces. There isn’t exactly a track record of player-development dominance over the last few years. There are just a lot of what-ifs and could-works.
It’s a team that’s not not the Angels over the last couple years. Aside from 2021, it’s been a team that’s struggled to be compelling in a way that one Ohtani can’t fix. They need more. They aren’t guaranteed to find more.
There’s the ballpark, too, which is eternally off-putting for left-handed hitters. While it’s easy for me, a pointy-headed blogger, to make the argument that Oracle Park would actually help Ohtani hit more home runs, according to the spray-chart overlay from Baseball Savant …
… that doesn’t mean Ohtani would be eager to play in Oracle Park. Its reputation as a muncher of left-handed batters is hard to shake.
There’s also a huge concern the Giants would be done after signing Ohtani. Phew, job’s done, thanks for coming out, everybody. This is not a team that’s one Ohtani away from perennial contention, and it’s not especially close. They would need to stack their long-term free agent and player-development successes on top of each other, and they haven’t done either of them for years. If Ohtani is sold on the Giants, it’s because he thinks they’ll finish first for the players they target. Which hasn’t happened much lately.
If Ohtani wants a proven winner, they’re out there. The Dodgers have won the division every season over the last decade except one*, and the Braves are set up better than almost every other team in baseball. The Blue Jays look like they’ll have a long-term run of success, and the Cubs look like they’re just starting one.
You can be bullish on the Giants, but you can be much more bullish on other organizations. That’s the biggest obstacle for the Giants to overcome, and I’m not sure if they can do it in their free-agent pitch to one of the greatest talents the sport has ever seen.
The Giants make more sense than you think. They don’t necessarily make more sense than the other five, six or seven teams that make sense, though, and that’s the problem. There’s a lot of ifs, ands and buts required to believe in the Giants as the best destination out of 30 possible teams. There aren’t so many that it’s impossible — even if you’re bitter, it’s not hard to see that’s strong argument up there — but it’s going to take a lot of vision to convince the most in-demand free agent in baseball history to overlook them.
Maybe he just wants to play for the Giants, though. Dunno. There have been goofier free-agent developments.
The overwhelmingly likely scenario is this: The Giants will try, possibly even making the best financial offer, a number that makes the monocle pop out of your eye socket. But if Ohtani wants to play somewhere else, he’ll play somewhere else. If he wants to play in San Francisco, he’ll play in San Francisco.
He’d do well, here. He’d do really, really well, and I think he’d enjoy the experience. So would everyone reading this.
The only problem is that pesky “rest of the league” stuff, with at least half the teams in baseball giddy to pay Ohtani $400 million or more. It’s not up to the Giants, in a way.
Ohtani would fit. The Giants would be thrilled to have him. He’s making a decision that should affect the rest of his career, though. You’ll forgive him if he inevitably comes to a much different, slightly more expected conclusion.
Previous San Francisco Giants free-agent profiles
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP
(Top photo of Shohei Ohtani: Ashley Landis / Associated Press)