Shohei Ohtani is, from all accounts, a legitimate two-way, five-tool player, a top-flight starting pitcher and an outfielder with elite power and speed. Keep that two/five construction in your head; I’m going to come back to it.
First, though, a quick news review: Ohtani on Wednesday completed his interviews with the MLB clubs that made his short list. The Padres were the seventh and final club to speak with the 23-year-old and his representatives. Ohtani now has until Dec. 23 to choose a team and sign a contract.
One of the clubs competing with the Padres for Ohtani’s services is the Giants. Their general manager, Bobby Evans, is open about how he’d like to utilize Ohtani, whom the Giants have scouted since he joined the Nippon Ham Fighters as a teenager in 2013.
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Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle and other media that he sees Ohtani starting out as a once-a-week pitcher, just as he was in Japan’s Pacific League, and a semi-regular outfielder, perhaps as a center fielder.
Finding time for Ohtani in the outfield will be relatively easy; keeping him on his Japan pitching schedule will be difficult. In theory, the remainder of the Giants’ rotation would be adversely affected by such a setup; MLB starters generally require a day or two less of rest between starts than do starters in Japan.
And here’s where the two/five construction from earlier returns: What if the Giants were to adopt a hybrid rotation that would afford Ohtani lots of rest, keep their most durable starters on a regular schedule, and protect the other starters from wearing down or being exposed?
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Were Ohtani to sign with the Giants, San Francisco would have at least seven pitchers for its rotation (barring trades): Ohtani, Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach. That group doesn’t include prospect Tyler Beede, who could begin the season in the minors if he isn’t traded, say, to the Marlins in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton.
For now, though, let’s keep the starting group at seven. What if Bumgarner and Samardzija were kept on a traditional schedule, pitching every five or six days, and the other starters were on a separate five-man rotation with extended rest?
To show how a 2/5 setup would work, let’s start with the Giants’ March/April schedule in 2018. San Francisco is scheduled to play 29 games in the season’s first 33 days. Under this arrangement, the 29 starts would be spread out over seven pitchers, with just two starting on a regular basis.
This is an extreme example, to be sure. Cueto and Moore (and probably Ohtani, too) would want nothing to do with the big gaps between starts in real life, but let’s assume for the purposes of this exercise that they’d be willing to go along. They could still work in middle or long relief during those lulls, which would in turn give the Giants needed help in their bullpen.
And, to expand the hypothetical further, let’s say the Giants wanted to keep Cueto from shuttling between the ‘pen and rotation. He could still use extra rest in April as he returns from an elbow injury that limited him to 25 starts last year. That’s one good reason to employ an extra starter or two in the first month.
Stratton and Brach, who lack the vets’ clout, would be swing men under this plan regardless.
Again, these machinations are designed to show how the Giants can help Ohtani maintain something close to a normal routine on the mound. His skill set makes such an accommodation — and an out-there idea like this one — worth exploring.