Shohei Ohtani Bo Bichette

Shohei Ohtani, Bo Bichette, and a Window Into the Minds of Blue Jays Fans

Thanks to a late end to the postseason (the final game World Series game was played on November 2nd), we sit here on November 17th and the Hot Stove is still sitting comfortably on “low.” The only move of consequence so far was Ryon Healy going from Oakland to the Mariners for a couple of players who most fans would describe as “let me Google that guy.”

For that reason, people tend to turn to idle speculation and hypotheticals. I am not immune, so I posted the following on Twitter.

It’s an absolutely silly question (and a bit of a run-on sentence to boot). In what world would it take a prospect of Bo Bichette’s calibre to get a little bit of international bonus pool money? But that wasn’t really the point. I asked this question to get a window into the fan perspective of the very unusual situation in which we find ourselves with Shohei Ohtani coming over as a bonus pool-limited free agent.

On the surface, this should be a landslide in the “yes” department. Bo Bichette is definitely a great prospect, but if the choice is between a top prospect in high-A and an MLB-ready talent like Ohtani making the league minimum, it should be pretty clear. Ohtani has the potential to be a generational talent – thanks to his potential to add some value with the bat – and at minimum projects as a future top of the rotation starter who is already advanced enough to help right now. Those types of players just don’t come along very often.

But when you look in at the results, the “yes” vote is only leading with 54 percent of the tally after 550 votes. That’s very close for something that seems pretty one-sided.

So why does this happen? I asked a couple of the people who openly voted no why they chose to lean the way they did.

There were reasons given ranging from general concern about pitchers and their durability to simply not being able to wrap their head around the idea of trading a player in order to acquire a free agent, but the ones below were the most fascinating.

The first reason was the one that I expected, but I wanted to discuss it further:


This is a case of comparing two different types of unknowns (and not the only such reply I received).

Ohtani’s scouting reports are excellent. He seems like he has all the tools to succeed and nobody (who isn’t motivated by prejudice towards “Japanese Pitchers”) thinks he’s anything but a top-level talent. On the flip side, Toronto fans have been hearing glowing report after glowing report about Bichette ever since he laid waste to the Gulf Coast League in his professional debut. As a result, people can’t help but book a ticket for the hype train and expect Bichette to turn into a superstar who will hit the major league ground running as early as September 2018.

As a result, this false equivalency is created between “prized prospect” Bichette and “prized prospect” Ohtani. They absolutely are both prized prospects, but they’re not the same. Ohtani would be the number one prospect in baseball. Bichette is not. But when we’re confronted with a situation like this, it’s the natural inclination to lean towards the more familiar of the two unknowns. In this case, rightly or wrongly, that’s Bo Bichette.

Another reason I was given for picking the Toronto prospect in this poll was even more fascinating and one that we ignore far too often:



When I put it up there as a one word sentence, it reads as though I am dismissing sentiment as a ridiculous thing, but it’s the opposite. Far too often when debating various roster moves, we ignore the very real emotional attachment that people build with players on the roster. That’s an odd thing too, because this very same attachment is the number one reason for fandom. Without it, all stadiums would look like those in Miami or Tampa and the game actually would be dying. We all have players we get attached to and simply don’t want to see moved. For me, that’s Anthony Alford. He’s the nicest guy in the world and I don’t want to see him traded for anybody. I know it’s not rational, but I don’t care.

In the case of Bichette (and Vlad Guerrero Jr.; it’s often hard to separate the two), the prospect of building a home grown, franchise hitter is incredibly appealing. It hasn’t been done since…Vernon Wells? Carlos Delgado? Some of us think of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion as home grown because they became stars here, but they came from elsewhere. Even Devon Travis was picked up in trade. So the dream of seeing Bichette rise through the system as “our” guy and then becoming a star has a tremendous appeal. It can even lead to choosing a situation that is likely a bit worse (in this case Bichette over Ohtani) but that is much more enjoyable if it works out.

The big takeaway here is that there truly is no right way to appreciate this game. There are moves that are objectively better for the team, but they may not be better for the fan. Emotion, messaging, and attachment play a big part in how we view our own players and how we cheer for them and forgive their flaws. As a result what seemed like an obvious decision became incredibly less so.

That’s pretty cool.

Lead Photo © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Thank you to everyone who responded to the poll and to @The_Road_Guy and @W_McComb89 for letting me use their tweets. 

Related Articles

12 comments on “Shohei Ohtani, Bo Bichette, and a Window Into the Minds of Blue Jays Fans”


Re: Otani at league minimum – I’ve read a couple of articles about what an early extension might look like for Otani by the winning bidder. Rules prevent teams from discussing potential contracts with him, but it sounds like there will be an expectation that he’s extended for big dollars, possibly before he even plays his first MLB game. I’m assuming Otani will be on the receiving end of a lot of winking and nudging during negotiations. Now for my questions. If the Jays really do want Otani, why aren’t they at least talking about trading for international spending cap space? And if he’s going to be extended so early, isn’t a Donaldson trade this offseason almost a requirement?

Joshua Howsam

Thanks for the comment!

I don’t think there’s any guarantee of a big time Ohtani extension before he even plays. In fact, I think the commissioner’s office would look really hard at any team that does that, especially in light of the Braves recent situation.

That said, even if there is some sort of illegal big extension built into the negotiations to be signed partway through the year, the money in the first three years would still be peanuts because it would be against a team’s interest to not do that. Otherwise it would raise the exact red flags that every team wants to avoid. So no, a Donaldson trade wouldn’t be even remotely necessary.

As for the bonus pool money, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to give up assets for cap space until they know Ohtani is actually willing to sign here. They can always trade for it once they get some indication of his desires (hence the hypothetical that spawned this entire piece). Also, we have no idea how important the money is actually going to be to Ohtani.


“Also, we have no idea how important the money is actually going to be to Ohtani.”

This seems to get left out of some people’s thinking. They see indications he might be leaving $200M on the table by coming to MLS now rather than in two years as a true FA, but they don’t take the next step to seeing that he doesn’t value money the way that they do / think he should.

A key disconnect is that they see only a couple of teams with $3+M in bonus money left, and they assume that gives them a big advantage over teams with much less. But how well does this line up with his apparent willingness to forego up to $200M?

It also strikes me that Rogers ought to be able to find / finagle ways to put other money such as endorsements into Ohtani’s pocket.

And there’s even at least one precedent for signing a player with no MLB experience to an extension. So, as just one possible example, it might be possible for teams to extend Ohtani during the off-season. They’d have trouble justifying anything near $200M, but I’d be very surprised if they (and other teams) can’t put together some kind of package that MLB won’t be able to block and with enough guaranteed dollars to make Ohtani a very rich man.

Joshua Howsam

I suppose you’d basically be looking at the Singleton contract +10-20M or so as a comparable that the league would allow, though it probably wouldn’t be wise for Ohtani to sign that since he could pretty easily make $40+M in arbitration if he’s as good as we think he is. Either way, I think trying to handicap his landing spot is definitely not the right way to go (and I think you’re saying you agree). That makes him a Jays long shot (as he is with any other team), but nothing worse than that.


Here are my thoughts on the off season and please let me know if I am crazy. I follow our minor league pretty closely and have based a lot of my rant on what I am seeing. So here I go:
OF-I just strongly believe that we should not be shopping for an outfielder, if your finances will be tight then this is not the area. Actually this is our strongest area of ready depth in our entire system. I would save the money and look to either Hernendez, Alford, Pompey, Smith Jr, Rameriez. All are young and provide speed. In fact we should also be trading Pearce.
Infield: I would really be looking to add Gordon in a trade. We have lots of prospects that are teir 2 that could get this deal done and honestly we will soon not be able to protect them all. Crazy trade idea coming beware- but I would also be shopping a package of tulo and pillar and would retain 5 million per year on tulos deal making tulo a more reasonable 15 million per year. This would bring back decent prospects I would look to San Francisco getting a deal for Crawford and 2 pitchers that are ready or very close to being ready for the 2019 year. Also I know this might not be the favourable suggestion as he had a good year last year but we should be trading Justin Smoak. Our number one bat that we should be pursuing in the off season is Hosmer. Smoak’s Werth will never be higher then right now. He is controlled for 2 more years for a reasonable 10 million and provides great Defence. The problem is the jays do not need another power only bat that clogs the base paths and can’t score from second on a base hit. Hosmer provides team leadership, OBP, some power, and good D. Also in our prospect system 1B is our weakest developed position. (Sorry all the tellez fans but we also don’t need another morales). Back up catcher I would look to sign Rosario.
Bullpen-I would not sign a single person here, not because it’s not needed, but because it’s not the need of concern to make us better. We currently will have osuna, biagini, Leone, tempera, Barnes, Loup, mayza…..I can live with this.
SP-Here is another area of need with losing Estrada and happ next year we need to sign a top 3 arm this year. My suggestion is Cobb but that’s everyones suggestion too. Anyways it needs to be too 3. Trading Pearce, smoak, pillar and Tulo will provide more pitching depth to fill those 2 remaining spots for the 2019 year and if we spend right this year next year we fill in-house.
Ohtani- Do I want him, yes! Is it going to happen, no way
So let’s look at money: trading smoak, Pearce, Pillar and tulo but retaining 5 million opens up roughly 30 million dollars. If the jays have roughly 50 million to spend this off season (not counting Josh’s arb of 20 million) to come close to last years budget that provides 80 million. Gordon costs 10, hosmer 20, Cobb 15 spending 45 million. We then have 35 million left, well let’s take that and resign josh to a 5 year 120million $24AAV, and look at extending stroman as well.

Joshua Howsam

Whoa. That’s a lot to unpack. Thanks for reading and asking!

For starters, I think going from Smoak to Hosmer is a lateral move for a lot more money, so I’m not at all with you there. Like Smoak, Hosmer is coming off a career year. For much of his career, he has basically been James Loney. If I’m gambling on a player’s most recent year being real, I’d much rather do it for one year at $4.25M (with a team option) than 6-7 years at $20M.

I’m fine with the idea of Gordon, as I think he’s a useful player at a reasonable, though not cheap, salary. I think that’s why you’re hearing a lot of rumours about him to begin with.

I’m also fine with going after Cobb (though I’d prefer better). He’s a good pitcher and shouldn’t cost TOO much, though he is tied to draft pick compensation. He’s the type of pitcher I expect them to get though. Him, Tyler Chatwood, Lance Lynn, Chris Tillman…something of that ilk. Ohtani is the wild card but, as you suggested, very unlikely.

I don’t see any scenario where the Giants take on Tulo’s deal, even with the Jays eating $5M of it. It just doesn’t make sense for them (or really any team). Obviously if it COULD be done, it would be worth getting Crawford. I just don’t see how they’d agree to that. They can get a much better CF than Pillar elsewhere (and in FA) and keep the better, cheaper player in Crawford.

The biggest problem to me though is your view of the outfield. If you trade Pearce (who I agree should be traded regardless of what they do) and Pillar, you’re stuck playing a group of 3 rookies, with 2 of them coming from a group that is made up of a guy who only has 30 PA above double-A (Alford), a guy who put up a .678 OPS in his second taste of AA last year (Ramirez), a guy who missed the entire season and just can’t stay healthy (Pompey), and a guy who frankly just isn’t really major league calibre (Smith Jr.).

Even if you keep Pillar, you’re still playing 2 rookies and a guy who can’t hit. That’s the type of outfield you field if you’re rebuilding, not if you’re pulling in guys like Alex Cobb and Dee Gordon. Sure, it has upside, but the downside is way too big to justify it. If this team is going to go for it with long term veterans (both Cobb and Gordon will be on at least 3 year contracts), they need to be going all in, not half way.


Imagine you’re a fan of another team that is looking to improve at SS. Would trading for Tulo at $15M, $15M, $9M and a $4M buyout for 2021 be high on your list of possibilities to explore?

Now imagine the other team is SF, with Crawford at SS who’ll be an FA after being paid $8M next season. Also factor in that you’ll be near the luxury tax threshold. Again, does trading for Tulo look like a particularly appealing idea?


I dunno. Look at the track record of Japanese stars migrating to mlb vs that of sons of successful major leaguers who bat .350+ at A or better. I bet we regret dumping Bo or Vlad.

Joshua Howsam

I almost can’t tell if you’re being serious there (because the sons of MLB etc seems very tongue-in-cheek), but I really dislike that argument. What exactly does Shohei Ohtani have to do with the failures of Hideki Irabu?

It’s also an entirely false narrative. Most Japanese pitchers other than he and Igawa (who was never supposed to be more than a back end starter anyway according to most scouts) who came over with any fanfare have done just fine. Nomo, Tanaka, Kuroda, Iwakuma, and Darvish were all good to great. Matsuzaka, while ultimately a bit of a bust, was fine too until he got hurt and lost his stuff. Heck, even Kaz Ishii was useful. On the relief side, Otsuka, Sasaki, Uehara, Hasegawa, and Okajima have all been excellent.

Like Americans, Dominicans, and Venezuelans, there are excellent players from Japan and those who are less so. And none of them (save for perhaps Darvish in his youth) had the stuff that Ohtani has.


Ohtani’s Decision to come over now seems to include some motivation to be in a major market and likley with a competitive playoff team. That would suggest Chicago, New York or Los Angeles would best fit the bill. By coming now he is already taking a lower salary so if he really wants a DH opportunity then it is an AL team.

Joshua Howsam

We actually have no idea what specifically he wants out of his next team. Some rumours have him wanting a team that he can build up, others have him wanting only to go to a team that can hit, one even has him wanting to go to Arizona because of some coach. But in truth, we actually have no idea what his motivations are and won’t until he signs.

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username