The Ohtani questionnaire is legendary now, part of the growing lore surrounding the 23-year-old Japanese star of the same name who will be awash in suitors when he becomes officially available to major league teams some time in the next week. Shohei Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, sent that questionnaire to all 30 teams, soliciting their pitches with a ready-made template that included five questions, according to a report by the Associated Press. Ohtani is subject to international signing rules, and no team can offer him a bonus greater than $3.5 million to sign. The way teams present themselves on those questionnaires and beyond will likely be more influential than the money, and the relatively low cost means no team will be totally priced out of pursuing the former Nippon Professional Baseball star.
But the Nationals are as closed to priced out as anyone, limited in the amount of money they can commit to Ohtani by the fact that they blew out their international bonus pool in 2016, and can therefore commit just $300,000 in a signing bonus to anyone they sign this season. Still, the Nationals did craft a presentation in response Ohtani questionnaire, according to a person familiar with the situation who said the team will submit its responses in English and Japanese. Their assistant for international scouting Taisuke Sato translated the entire presentation for Ohtani’s consumption.
The Nationals had to make a pitch to Ohtani. Every team is expected to do so. Every team could use a right-handed pitcher with a fastball that hits 102, or a left-handed hitter with what has been described as prodigious power. At Ohtani’s price (or perhaps any price), no team could justify turning down an opportunity to acquire both at once. That they built a presentation for him does not necessarily signal a major push.
While money seems unlikely to be the deciding factor for Ohtani, the difference between the $300,000 the Nationals can offer and the more than $3 million other teams can offer seems likely to pare down his list somewhat. If he limits his concerns to the questions asked on Balelo’s questionnaire, the Nationals might also find themselves at a disadvantage compared to some of their fellow suitors.
The first question, according to that report in the Associated Press, was simply asking for the team’s evaluation of Ohtani’s hitting and pitching ability. These answers will vary from team to team, but seem unlikely to differentiate the Nationals much at all. Perhaps some teams will be able to show Ohtani a clear path to playing time, perhaps as a designated hitter, or a part-time outfielder. The Nationals do not have openings in their starting lineup, but can certainly say they have room in their rotation, given that their fifth starter’s job is currently unsettled.
The second question asked for “an explanation of the team’s player development, medical training and player performance philosophies.” Here, the Nationals could make a compelling case, as they overhauled their medical staff and player health programs by more than doubling their investment in them before the 2016 season. They built that new medical staff with an eye to the latest international trends, hiring Harvey Sharman away from Leeds United in the English Premier League, one of the more high-profile leagues in all of professional sports.
The next question asked for a description of spring training, minor-league and major-league facilities. While many of the Nationals’ minor league facilities are notorious, they can boast a new spring training home and a ballpark that is not yet a decade old.
Next, the Nationals had to describe their plans for Ohtani’s cultural assimilation, and “how the team plans to integrate Ohtani into its organization.” Having never signed a Japanese player under Mike Rizzo, the Nationals will be in the same situation as many teams when it comes to these questions. While the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees can present plans they’ve executed with Japanese stars in the past, the Nationals’ plans will have to be all hypothetical. Perhaps that will place them at a disadvantage.
Finally, the questionnaire includes a question about the general desirability of the city and the franchise “along with any other relevant ‘marketplace’ characteristics.” Here, the Nationals can compete. Forbes valued them as the eighth-most valuable franchise in baseball in 2017. They consistently rank in the game’s upper third in terms of payroll. They have made the playoffs in four of the last six years. They are loaded with star power in one of the more high-profile cities in the country, with brands such as Under Armour nearby for natural endorsement opportunities. The Nationals likely pointed out all those things in their answers to that question.
But whatever the Nationals wrote in their responses, the fact that they wrote them should not be taken for more than it is — due diligence, a no-brainer. They still seem unlikely to make a strong push for Ohtani, but they will not sit out the chase entirely.