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How would Shohei Ohtani fit into the Yankees' roster?

Ohtani's two-way enterprise could both fit and constrain the Yankees' roster options.

Netherlands v Japan - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Shohei Ohtani is the talk of the offseason, and rightfully so. It's not often that a top-tier international talent could be had at the price of a $20 million posting fee, plus a ~$3.5 million signing bonus, and a standard minor league contract. Literally every team can afford Ohtani, and that's why every team is in on him, including our beloved Yankees. The flip side of this is that the Yankees are going to have a harder time differentiating themselves from other bidders than usual since they can't just hand Ohtani eleventy gazillion dollars like they normally do. Cashman and company are going to have to woo Ohtani by making an effort to meet his non-monetary demands.

So then, what exactly are Ohtani's demands? Looking at the questionnaire sent by his agent to all 30 MLB teams, one question stands out; namely, “how will you integrate me into the organization?” This is essentially fancy talk for “how are you going to let me hit and pitch?” It's well known by this point that Ohtani really, really wants to be a two-way player. The team that signs Ohtani will most assuredly be the team with the clearest route for Ohtani to do what he wants to do. In that regard, how do the Yankees fare?

In terms of letting Ohtani both hit and pitch consistently, AL teams with vacancies in both their rotation and their DH spots would be an obvious fit for Ohtani. The Yankees are an AL team, they can fit another arm in along with Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery, and they have a hole where Matt Holliday used to be. Since they check all three boxes, Ohtani would be a great fit! End of story.

Except it's not all that cut and dry. The Yankees would be ill-advised to pencil in Ohtani for 180 innings in the rotation next year, as he will have to transition from a once-a-week work schedule to pitching once every five days. Add to that the fact that he's still 23, and you get why monitoring Ohtani's workload is going to be necessary.

The trickier part comes in trying to let Ohtani hit on a regular basis. If the Yankees are serious about keeping Ohtani healthy, which they should be, then they aren't going to let him get 600 PAs while pitching him in the rotation. They will have to schedule regular rest days for Ohtani, so that he doesn't have to hit the day after he pitches. His old team's handling of him should provide a guideline for the Yankees. With the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani's schedule looked like this:

Monday: (no games)

Tuesday: DH/OF

Wednesday: DH/OF

Thursday: DH/OF

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Start

Sunday: Rest

Looking at the above, the general rule seems to be to give Ohtani at least one day of rest between his starts and his DH/OF appearances. Taking into account that MLB teams would a) have to work with a much busier schedule and b) never let Ohtani play the outfield, an estimate of Ohtani's work week in MLB would look something like this:

Monday: Start

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: DH

Thursday: DH

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Start

Sunday: Rest

That bumps him down to two DH starts a week. Since the MLB season is approximately 23 weeks long, that limits Ohtani's DH games to 46 games per year, or somewhere around 200 plate appearances. If the Yankees get cute with a six-man rotation, those numbers jump up to 69 games per year and around 300 plate appearances, but I wouldn't count on that happening. Either way, Ohtani is not going to be a full time DH. For the Yankees to justify starting Ohtani at DH two times a week, they would have to demonstrate two things: one, that they don't have an in-house option that is clearly better than Ohtani, and two, that they have enough capable options to keep the DH slot afloat during Ohtani's rest days/pitching appearances.

It's here that Ohtani fits the Yankees' current situation. With no set DH but a logjam in the outfield with five capable bodies vying for four roster spots, the Yankees are probably best served by rotating the DH spot between some combination of Gary Sanchez/Greg Bird/Aaron Hicks/Clint Frazier. By slotting Ohtani into that DH rotation, the Yankees would enjoy a possible upgrade at the DH position while maintaining their positional flexibility.

It might not be all hunky dory, though. After all, there is the distinct possibility that Ohtani's bat isn't going to translate. Hicks and Frazier are talented question marks as well, with the latter not having proved himself at the major league level yet. Aside from Bird and Sanchez, both of which will start at their respective positions for the bulk of the season, the Yankees' production from the DH spot is far from guaranteed. Even if Ohtani hits like a legitimate DH, he's still only going to be good for 300 PAs, tops.

It's here that signing Ohtani constrains the Yankees' roster construction. By making his two-way bid a priority, Ohtani is essentially limiting potential AL buyers from getting tried and true bats like Carlos Santana or J.D. Martinez in order to upgrade at DH. Granted, those guys might not be the best fit for the Yankees as presently constructed either. In the event that Ohtani does come to the Yankees and they let him pitch and hit, the Yankees will in all likeliness be forced to operate with a perpetual revolving door at DH. Only time can tell what that would mean for the Yankees' production at DH, and also for Ohtani's development as a major league hitter.