MLB.com Columnist

Mark Feinsand

Ohtani the hot topic at GM Meetings

Ohtani the hot topic at GM Meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The name mentioned more often than any other during the first day of the General Managers Meetings wasn't Giancarlo Stanton. It was a player who has never stepped foot on a Major League field.

Pitcher/outfielder Shohei Ohtani was the hot topic on Monday as the GMs gathered, and although the Japanese superstar hasn't even been officially posted by his current team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, it's clear that the interest in him is widespread.

"He's an incredibly talented player; we, like 29 other clubs, have scouted him extensively," Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said. "Obviously, it's a unique skill set, and there's a reason why it's attracted so much attention."

Nippon has said that it plans to post Ohtani, though a new posting agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball has not been put in place. The old agreement, under which MLB clubs paid Japanese teams a release fee of up to $20 million, expired on Oct. 31.

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported last week that Ohtani's representatives at Creative Artists Agency, a Los Angeles-based group, were slated to meet with the Major League Baseball Players Association in the coming days, potentially setting the wheels in motion for an agreement to be reached.

MLB and NPB had made progress on a new agreement that would have had the NPB club receiving a percentage of the player's guaranteed contract. Nippon has withheld its support for that concept since the 23-year-old Ohtani is likely to sign for less than $5 million -- and possibly less than $1 million -- because of bonus limitations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on international players under 25 years old.

Although Ohtani's Major League destination remains one of the most significant story lines of this offseason, what happens with him once he arrives here is just as noteworthy.

Could Ohtani succeed in the Majors as a two-way player, working as both a starting pitcher and an outfielder/designated hitter?

"Babe Ruth did it, right?" Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said. "He was pretty good."

Based on their comments, it seems the GMs believe it would take a Ruthian effort to succeed as a two-way player.

"It's really demanding to be a one-way player, let alone trying to be a two-way player," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "The recovery time a starting pitcher needs, the number of swings a hitter needs, it goes way above playing the game; it's the preparation, it's the recovery, it's the skill development that's required. It becomes double for a two-way player."

"I think it's difficult," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. "It depends on the quality of both skill sets; the usage and the expectations will really come into play. It's going to be a special player to do both. It's hard enough to do one."

That's not to say every executive is ruling out the idea of using Ohtani's unusual talents on the mound and at the plate. The Rays selected Louisville pitcher/first baseman Brendan McKay with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 Draft, opening eyes around the game.

"I think it would take a unique skill set, both physical and mental, to allow for those skills to play out, proper health and recovery and all those elements, as well," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "But yeah, I would think it's possible. ... Obviously, Tampa took McKay with the fourth pick in the country; that's more than just an experiment. But again, it's all about the individual."

Having a player work both as a pitcher and as a hitter would take the idea of versatility -- a big buzzword among front offices -- to the next level.

"Generally, if you have someone capable of doing something like that, it gives you more roster flexibility and roster choices," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "It's kind of like having a 26th man when everyone else is playing with 25, just because of the duality of that particular player."

Ahead of schedule
The Twins and Brewers took unexpected steps forward in 2017, as Minnesota earned a postseason berth as the second American League Wild Card team, while Milwaukee finished 86-76, its best record since 2011.

Given their expedited rebuilding plans, will the two teams enter the free-agent fray this offseason? Both have been rumored as prospective spenders, and according to Twins GM Thad Levine, nothing can be ruled out at this early stage of the offseason.

"Our team had a really nice performance in 2017, which gives us confidence that we can be a little bit further ahead than we had expected," Levine said. "We're at least going to do our diligence and not assume we're out of any markets."

Levine on Twins' surprising 2017

In addition, the fact that the White Sox, Tigers and Royals are in the middle of rebuilding has opened a window for the Twins to contend in the AL Central.

"Those are windows that you want to take advantage of as best you can," Levine said. "For those two reasons, we're trying to focus more on near-term decisions; nothing that would be exclusive for 2017, but something that could help us for the next couple of years."

As for the Brewers, GM David Stearns "honestly never set a timeline" for his club to contend, and although Milwaukee's successful campaign has him excited about the future, his decision-making process hasn't changed.

"We're pleased to be going into an offseason focused on how we can improve our Major League product," Stearns said. "We're pleased that we had a number of young players on our team continue their development at the Major League level. It's put us in a spot this year where we feel good about continuing to add to that core group."

Close call
The Cubs let closer Aroldis Chapman leave as a free agent last season and filled the vacancy by acquiring Wade Davis in a trade with the Royals. Now Davis is a free agent, leaving that position open for a second straight offseason.

Could another trade be in the works?

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs and Dodgers are among the teams expressing interest in Orioles closer Zach Britton, who was on the trade block last July and could be shopped again this offseason.

Britton's four-out save

The Dodgers were one of the teams most interested in Britton during the summer, though Baltimore ultimately opted not to move him. The left-hander is slated to become a free agent after the 2018 season, a situation similar to the one the Cubs inherited with Davis a year ago.

"Obviously, Wade was fantastic for us last year, and we really enjoyed having him, but we have to talk through exactly how to do that," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said when asked about filling the closer job. "Closers come from all over. When you're hopefully going to lead a lot of games, you have to make sure you can close them out. That's something that we talked about a lot last winter. Having a really good end of the game bullpen is important."

Given that closers including David Robertson, Brandon Kintzler, Addison Reed, Justin Wilson, AJ Ramos and Sean Doolittle were all dealt last July, it's possible the Cubs could try to patch it together during the first half and make a midseason trade as they did for Chapman in 2016, though that cost Chicago top prospect Gleyber Torres and three other players.

"The cost is high then, too, though," Hoyer said. "So that's something you have to keep in mind."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.