The Minnesota Twins, who were informed earlier this week that they are out of contention to sign Shohei Ohtani, made the best of the mayhem by swiping two top-10 prospects from the Mariners and Angels, two teams reportedly very much still in the mix to get the Japanese superstar.
In exchange, the Twins sent international bonus pool money back to Seattle and Anaheim, $1 million apiece, which could be put towards paying Ohtani. The Mariners surrendered fifth-round college catcher David Banuelos in return—he was the best catcher in their farm system—and the Angels traded third-round outfielder Jacob Pearson, the fifth-best prospect in their system. The Twins still have $1.25 million in bonus pool money. (It’s worth mentioning that the reason the Twins have this high ceiling is because last month they cancelled the contract of a Domincan prospect who failed a physical, ostensibly to free up $3 million with which to pursue Ohtani.)
It’s early, of course, but this is my favorite move of the offseason so far. It is bonus pool money and prospects, two things that are not exactly sexy in the way that a Giancarlo Stanton trade will be, whenever it happens. If you were trying to come up with a transaction that might headline SportsCenter for a week or two, it would be something like the opposite of these. But it’s an interesting play by all sides, and part of the strategic puzzle of teams taking big-ass gambles to build the best roster possible.
The Angels and Mariners had to abandon caution and take on risk to make these moves; having an advantage in terms of what kind of money they can offer Ohtani is that important. The Rangers have the most to offer Ohtani—$3.5 million as a maximum bonus, which is still a wildly depressed figure from what he’d receive if he were allowed to come to Major League Baseball as an international professional instead of as an amateur, but if money mattered that much to Ohtani he would have waited to come over as a full-fledged free agent in a couple years. The Mariners have the advantage over the Angels, now, but both teams currently have an edge over their remaining large-market competitors and the Padres:
These transactions were done independently of one another, of course, but the ultimate result here is that one of these teams, if not both, will be moving on without Ohtani and without one of their best prospects. In a field of frantically signaling suitors, these moves show Ohtani and his people that these teams are both serious about bringing him on. As well they might be: For a team that believes itself to be on the brink of breaking through, working to accommodate the most anticipated international player in recent history is absolutely the right move. The moves these teams made to get themselves there are likely to end end up as a footnote in this Ohtani news cycle, but for now it’s fun to picture Twins GM Thad Levine sitting back, looking smug, and feeling good about capitalizing on the Ohtani-mania despite the fact that he was denied the grand prize.