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Olney on Ohtani: 'He knows where he wants to go'

Shohei Ohtani Shohei Ohtani - The Canadian Press

With the MLB Winter Meetings set to open on Dec. 4, all eyes remain on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani as the league awaits his decision in free agency.

ESPN Baseball Insider Buster Olney believes Ohtani already knows where he wants to play, and that "his agent is actually just playing it out to get leverage."

Olney joined First Up on TSN1050 Wednesday to discuss Ohtani's impending move, where Matt Chapman may end up and more. 

"I'll say this: Talking to people who know Ohtani, they think he's already made his decision. They think he knows where he wants to go and has for a long time," said Olney. 

While Ohtani's team is keeping everything under lock and key, Olney believes the team leading the race to sign him is the Los Angeles Dodgers

"I still think the Dodgers are going to wind up being the fit for him," he said. "They're in a position because of how they handled their payroll where they can offer him a lot of money and he'd be teamed with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, so he'd have a lot of cover."

The Dodgers have been at the forefront of the Ohtani sweepstakes throughout due to a variety of factors, including geographical location and competitive strength.

ESPN's Jeff Passan indicated recently that the Toronto Blue Jays are heavily involved in the chase for Ohtani and that the leading teams were the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Texas Rangers

Olney isn't as confident in the Jays' pursuit of the two-time MVP.

"It's hard to get free agents to come to Toronto unless you pay them far and away more than anybody else," said Olney. "I believe what his friends are telling me, that he's already chosen his spot, and he knows where he wants to go."

"In terms of the Blue Jays, the one point of logic that's been pointed out to me by rival executives that would fit them is they need offensive help," he said. "It's really hard for them because they're not loaded with prospects at the moment to go and fill those offensive spots unless they spend a lot of money. Well, the guy at the top of that board, obviously, will be Ohtani."

Elsewhere in the free agency landscape, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who pitched to a 1.16 earned-run average last season in Japan and ranks second on TSN's Top 50 MLB Free Agents list, could potentially agree to a historic contract in the MLB in the next month.

Yamamoto was posted by the Orix Buffaloes on November 20, meaning MLB clubs have 45 days to negotiate a contract. Yamamoto won the Japanese version of the Cy Young Award, the Sawamura Award, each of the past three years in Nippon Professional Baseball. 

"He's going to be one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball history," said Olney. "You do not see elite starting pitchers hit the free agent market at age 25."  

"The other thing is Yamamoto has all these big-market teams lined up with desperate needs - the Dodgers [may not] re-sign Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias is going to be facing a suspension under baseball's Domestic Abuse Policy, Walker Buehler is coming off an injury," said Olney. 

"The Mets, having saved the money by trading Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander - this is the first big move for new GM David Stearns, so we know they're going to be heavily involved," he said.

Olney indicates that he's seen projections of around $225 million for the total value of Yamamoto's contract, but he's expecting the final total to surpass that.  

"I think he's going to get the second-biggest contract for a starting pitcher in MLB history behind Gerrit Cole because of his age and because of the desperate need we're seeing of these big-market teams."

Olney thinks third baseman Matt Chapman, who declined a qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays at the outset of the off-season, is unlikely to receive a big contract this off-season.

"There's so much concern about his ability to hit fastballs and his struggles over the last four and a half months of the season," he said. "I'm going to be really interested to see if there's a team out there that's going to actually step up and pay."

Chapman started the season scorching hot, earning AL Player of the Month honours in April by hitting .384 with five homeruns. From May onwards, he hit just .205, and struck out in just under 30 per cent of his plate appearances. 

"To some degree you have the defence, which is elite, but then there's the question about him as an offensive player," Olney said. "Is some team going to be willing to step out and offer something like five years, $20 million a year, give him a nine-figure contract?"

Olney doesn't think Chapman is going to return to Toronto either - "There is a perception that he's going to leave - wherever his next team is, it's not going to be Toronto."