The MLB All-Star Game is taking place on Tuesday, and the biggest attraction will be Shohei Ohtani. The pitcher-outfielder has become a superstar for the Los Angeles Angels this season and should be a favorite to not only win the Home Run Derby on Monday but take home the MVP award in the Midsummer Classic.
Ohtani came over from Japan prior to the 2018 season and, like every team, the Minnesota Twins were interested in signing him. While they had the third-most international signing-bonus money at the time, they weren’t a finalist for the opportunity, and he ultimately landed in Anaheim.
But let’s just say Ohtani was enamored with the possibility of being baptized in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. His arrival in the Twin Cities would have grabbed headlines, and the Twins may be a much different team than they are this year.
Ohtani would have slotted into the Twins’ outfield, which was packed with talent in 2018. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler were starting to scratch the surface of their potential, and Ohtani could have supplanted them, which would have made them earn their playing time.
But the Twins had a disappointing season that year, largely because of a toe injury that limited Buxton to 28 games. Instead of the Twins turning to Ryan LaMarre and Jake Cave as a replacement, Ohtani could have softened the blow between Kepler and Eddie Rosario. That would have given the Twins more punch at the plate in a season where they ranked 13th in runs scored.
Ohtani hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. But his real value would have come on the mound, where he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in his rookie season and would have given Minnesota another quality starter to pair with Jose Berríos.
It’s fun to think about what he could have done for Minnesota’s pitching staff during the 2019 season, but elbow issues that led to Tommy John surgery would have kept him out of the rotation.
It also could have given the 2019 season a much different outcome. The Twins signed Nelson Cruz to be their full-time designated hitter the previous winter, but they might not have made that move if they had a recovering Ohtani on the roster.
Because Ohtani was relegated to designated hitter duties, his .286/.343/.505 line with 18 homers wouldn’t have had the same impact as the 41 homers Cruz hit during the 2019 season. However, it may have given the Twins more leeway to make moves at the trade deadline. With Ohtani expected to return to the outfield the following season, the Twins could have been more aggressive by trading Trevor Larnach or Alex Kirilloff for a starting pitcher or another bat.
That final piece could have meant a prolonged playoff run, snapping the longest postseason losing streak in the history of North American sports.
But things wouldn’t have gone so well in 2020. Ohtani’s recovery dragged on as he hit .190/.291/.366 with seven homers and posted a 37.80 ERA on the mound. With Ohtani struggling, in the mind of some fans, he could have been placed in the dreaded Joe Mauer category as a big-money player not living up to the expectations of his contract.
Everything would have changed this season as Ohtani has developed into a modern-day Babe Ruth. With Rosario being non-tendered, Ohtani could have taken over in right field and formed a superstar duo with Buxton in center field.
With Ohtani and Buxton anchoring the lineup, the Twins would become one of the most exciting teams in Major League Baseball. However, offense hasn’t been the issue for the Twins this season. That’s where Ohtani’s presence on the mound would come in handy.
Ohtani has become an ace for the Angels this season, owning a 4-1 record with a 3.49 ERA. That would have been a godsend for the Twins. With Ohtani at the top of the rotation, he could have formed a one-two punch with Berríos and pushed everyone down the line.
Of course, Ohtani was never coming to Minnesota. He wanted to be on the West Coast, so the only way to see him in a Twins uniform is to trade for him in MLB The Show. While Twins fans marvel at what he’ll do in the All-Star Game, it’s still fun to wonder what he could do had he landed in the Twin Cities.