St. Louis Cardinals fans might be grasping at straws on Shohei Ohtani, but what else is there to do while we wait for opening day?
Shohei Ohtani is set to become one of the most sought-after free agents in MLB history after the 2023 season. Virtually all 30 teams would love the opportunity to pay the league’s first true two-way player in a century hundreds of millions of dollars to commit to their team for a decade or more.
Hints on Ohtani’s motivations in free agency have been relatively hush and non-descript, which shouldn’t be surprising considering him hitting the open market is essentially a year away still.
Most of the teams that have been floated as possible suitors are the normal, big-brand teams that tend to spend lavishly. The Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Yankees, and Mets all fit that bill. There’s a group that he met with before he signed with the Angels that includes the Rangers and Mariners as well, so you can bet they’ll be early favorites to make a pitch again, too, especially with their pushes to acquire talent and be as competitive as possible.
But if we’re going off personal relationships, the Cardinals have a leg-up on the competition thanks to the World Baseball Classic.
Shohei Ohtani and Lars Nootbaar generating a relationship the Cardinals hope will pay off
Any time pro players get to play with stars from other teams, things get really interesting, really quickly. All-Star events, the Olympics, and in this case, the World Baseball Classic are all opportunities for pro players to get together, build friendships, and start conspiring about what it would be like to team up and help build a super team.
Outfielder Lars Nootbaar might play that role for the St. Louis Cardinals at the WBC. He and Shohei Ohtani, playing alongside one another on the Japanese team set to face off against America in the WBC Finals on Tuesday, have been getting along swimmingly.
Nootbaar has called Ohtani “incredible,” after getting to know him for the first time as a teammate. According to the Associated Press, Nootbaar is the first player to suit up for the Japanese team thanks to ancestry.
Nootbaar has an in with Ohtani, and Cardinals fans should be thrilled about that. It doesn’t guarantee he’ll end up in St. Louis, but you have to like their chances, right?
It’s not nothing. For an international player who prefers to speak in his native language through an interpreter to press, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll weigh things like cultural familiarity with his next team. Proximity to the homeland on the west coast may be one thing, but having someone familiar with his home culture like Nootbaar could create a legitimate advantage for St. Louis in free agency.