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Shohei Ohtani is coming to the majors, so here are a pair of controversial predictions

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It’s three controversial predictions if you count me predicting underneath the headline that he goes to the Rays.

Japan v Mexico - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Shohei Ohtani is coming to Major League Baseball in 2018. This is a big, big deal, both in terms of the marketability and the watchability of baseball. Baseball will be more fun. It will be easier to tell the world, “Look at how much more fun baseball is this year because of this player!” Everything will come together, and we’ll all hold hands and circle around a picture of Ohtani, singing his praises.

Just forget about the part where he’ll make about the same salary as Joe Blanton, give or take.

Yes, Ohtani is coming over, and yes, we deserve him, even if MLB doesn’t. It will be great fun, unless he’s on a team I don’t like, in which case this whole thing will have been a scam. But I would like to share two predictions and/or hot takes. One of them is pretty harmless. One of them has the potential to look really silly. We’ll start with the harmless one.

Ohtani will pitch and hit quite extensively in 2018

If most teams had to choose, they would sign him as a pitcher. He’s comparable to Noah Syndergaard with his fastball/breaking ball devastation, and there wouldn’t need to be an adjustment period. Oh, you throw 99 mph with a wipeout slider and at least average command? Maybe do that, see what happens. The ability to use him as a pinch-hitter on his four off days would be an amazing, quirky bonus gift, but he would be paid for pitching if most teams had their way.

The teams aren’t in charge, though. Ohtani is in charge, and we’ve already determined that he can send his buddy from Southie to the meetings and ask the team executives to bark like a dog. And he wants to pitch and hit. This is not ambiguous. He wants to do both, and he relishes the challenge. The reason he was allowed to do both as a teenager is because he had leverage, remember. The Dodgers were close to signing him after high school, but Nippon Ham decided to draft him and give him the chance to do both, which he wasn’t going to get in the American minor leagues, so he decided to stay in Japan.

When Ohtani sits down to negotiate, teams can’t buy his affection with money. And I’m going to guess that his indelible opinions about Philadelphia vs. Houston are roughly the same as your opinions about Nagoya vs. Saitama, which means he’s going to pick his teams because of baseball reasons, mostly.

BRIAN CASHMAN: Well, naturally, we wouldn’t want you to tire yourself out by hitting and pitching, ha ha.

OHTANI: [whispers to translator]

TRANSLATOR: Looks like you’re getting a tour of the “pit of misery.”

CASHMAN: Wait, but

OHTANI: [whispers to translator]

TRANSLATOR: Dilly. Dilly.

OHTANI: [whispers to translator]

TRANSLATOR: Where’s the “beef,” Yankees?

There will be something written into the contract, though I’m not sure how. Maybe something that would let Ohtani opt out if he doesn’t reach a certain number of at-bats divided by his days on the active roster. I’m not sure what’s allowed under the CBA, but Ohtani’s agents will figure it out, and it will be a part of the negotiations.

This seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating until it’s clear: Ohtani won’t get paid a lot of money, which strangely gives him as much leverage in his negotiations as any player in recent memory. He’ll hit and pitch next year.

Ohtani won’t pitch and hit extensively by the year 2020

I have cracked an egg on this take because I am hungry and desire protein. But I’m anticipating the progression going something like this:

  • Ohtani comes to MLB and does well at both initially
  • There’s a setback with either his hitting or pitching, possibly with something injury-related
  • He continues to thrive in part of his game that’s unaffected
  • At some point, as he reaches his chance for a big contract, his team won’t need to negotiate. They’ll just put their palms up in the international sign for “c’mon,” and he’ll sigh loudly and agree to focus on one part of the game.

If you’re looking for a more specific prediction, it’s that Ohtani pitches well, but not Cy Young well, and that he’ll hit pretty okay. Which would be very fun! But if I had to choose between having one guy who can be both Dan Straily and Kendrys Morales, or having two guys who are Noah Syndergaard and whatever Morales replacement I can scrounge up, I’ll choose the latter.

I asked Tony Cingrani before the World Series if he had any desire to return to a major league rotation, and he quickly responded by saying he hated being a starter. It demanded so much from the body and brain, and it was essential for the starting pitcher to have a circadian rhythm that allowed him to pace himself properly and expend his energy just so. The pacing and preparation were almost like sixth tools. Relievers can just grab the ball and throw it hard, to oversimplify it, whereas starters have to mete out the energy they expend, while figuring out how to get hitters out a second or third time.

A starting pitcher trying to do this while being a full-time DH or, gasp, outfielder? It sure seems like John Coltrane juggling with his left hand and playing the saxophone with his right. I’m sure he could have played the hell out of that thing with just the right hand, but, c’mon, put down the stupid tennis balls and give me “Giant Steps.”

I would absolutely LOVE to be wrong, and please note that this prediction does not include the possibility of Ohtani being a late-inning reliever, which seems like something that could work indefinitely and keep all sides happy. It’s what I would push for if my team magically won the most ridiculous baseball sweepstakes in decades.

If Ohtani wants to start in the field and on the mound, it’ll happen. I’m just not sure for how long. There’s just too much filthy, unwelcome logic that’s going against it.