Houston Astros: Why the team has a legitimate shot at Shohei Ohtani

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12: Shohei Ohtani
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12: Shohei Ohtani /

Dubbed the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball, Shohei Ohtani is finally making his way to the United States. Seemingly every team is gearing up to make their best pitch to land the two-way star, do the Houston Astros have a chance?  Here’s why I think they do.

Here we are Houston Astros fans.  For a while, Shohei Ohtani’s path to the United States seemed to be at a standstill. Then the MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) agreed to a new posting system after the old agreement, that had been in place since 1998, expired. After being officially posted on Friday, Ohtani has three weeks, until Dec. 22nd, to choose his new team.

Shohei Ohtani had been a mainstay for the Nippon Ham Fighters since he was 18 years old. He has a career .286/.358/.500 slash with 48 career home runs and 166 RBIs. With most of last season spent injured, a look back to 2016 shows more of what Ohtani is capable of. That year he hit 22 home runs and had 67 RBIs while slashing .322/.416/.588. Ohtani is also a standout pitcher. He threw the fastest pitch ever recorded in Japan at 164 kph (roughly 102 mph) in 2016. In the same year, he had 10-4 record with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. Ohtani also has 13 career complete games and seven shutouts.  With these numbers, he is definitely dominant at both the plate and on the mound.

Fresh off of a World Series championship, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow are already looking for ways to improve the team in hopes of repeating in 2018. Brian McTaggart of MLB.com had the opportunity to interview Crane on the possibility of the Houston Astros pursuit of Ohtani. Crane confirmed to McTaggart that the Astros would be in “full-court press” to get Ohtani to Houston.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 18: Masahiro Tanaka
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 18: Masahiro Tanaka /

The last time that a big Japanese star was posted was Masahiro Tanaka. The Astros pulled out all the stops attempting to land him. They brought a crew of Roger Clemens, Crane, and others to try to lure him to Houston. It would be safe to assume that the Houston Astros will be putting together a  another star-studded cast in order to persuade Shohei Ohtani to take up residence in Houston.

Jim Crane and company have certainly been keeping an eye on the Japanese star, and as far as fit goes Crane seems to think Ohtani would help fill some holes and fill out an already talented roster.

Here’s an additional tidbit that Crane provided in that said interview:

"“We’d certainly be interested,” Crane said. “Based on everything our guys have seen, he’s got really good stuff and he could be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and he’s got a bat. We need a left-handed DH, so there you have it.”"

The Astros are not lacking with what they can offer Shohei Ohtani. The 2017 World Champions boast an almost fully intact roster from their championship team with a couple holes that Ohtani could fill. Like Crane said in the quote above, Ohtani could help round out a starting rotation that looks promising. With full years from Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, adding him would be a great addition. Ohtani could also platoon the DH spot with Evan Gattis, providing a solid left-handed, right-handed combination that could make an already potent offense even more dangerous.

If Morosi’s reports that Ohtani wishes to be only Japanese star on his new team, this would be another check mark in the Houston Astros’ favor.

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As far as the city of Houston goes, it may not be the biggest market, but it certainly isn’t the smallest.  I’m sure the city would be welcoming to an international star. Houston has been a good landing spot for an international star in the past with Yao Ming. Now, granted, that was a different sport and a different country.  The city of Houston surpassed New York back in 2010 as the most diverse major metropolitan area in the US, that coupled with the rallying around Yao, could point to favorable conditions to land Ohtani.

However, the new agreement between the MLB and NPB requires a $20 million posting fee that the signing team has to pay the Fighters. After that the contract for Ohtani depends on the team’s international signing bonus pool. According to McTaggart, the Houston Astros can offer Ohtani a $300,000 bonus due to exceeding their bonus pool in previous years. This is significantly lower than what other teams could offer, like the Rangers, Twins, and Yankees. The bonus seems to be a large hurdle for the organization to overcome in their pursuit of Ohtani.

Next: Astros MLB Tender Deadline Talk: Winners & Losers

Do the Houston Astros have a shot?

The Astros seem to have an outside shot to land Ohtani. With the newly established championship pedigree, talented roster, and a great city the Astros pitch is stronger than most. The biggest thing working against the Astros is the financial aspect. Crane will have to convince Ohtani to take a smaller paycheck in order for this to work out.

Astros fans should be keeping an eye on the Ohtani sweepstakes as things shake out over the next three weeks. His path to Houston isn’t without hurdles, but the team has a case to persuade the Ohtani join the team.