NEW YORK -- With the Yankees continuing to fight for postseason position, it spoke volumes that general manager Brian Cashman recently made a 6,000-mile journey to the Sapporo Dome in order to watch Shohei Ohtani -- dubbed "the Japanese Babe Ruth" -- take the mound for the Nippon Ham-Fighters.
The 23-year-old phenom did not have his best stuff that day, lasting just 3 1/3 innings, but that effort did not dull the excitement about him. With the news that Ohtani has decided to play in the Major Leagues next season, as first reported by Yahoo! Japan, the Yankees figure to be firmly in the mix for his services.
"He's definitely intriguing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously, I haven't really seen much of him; you just hear reports about him. I was asked today, could a guy pitch and DH some? I think it's possible."
MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees were among 13 teams to watch Ohtani's start, his second of the season, in which he allowed four runs on three hits and three walks. The D-backs, Orioles, Red Sox, Cubs, Reds, Indians, Dodgers, Pirates, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays and Nationals were also represented, according to Rosenthal.
If Ohtani is indeed posted this winter rather than waiting until he is an unrestricted free agent, it could cost him millions in contract negotiations, as his age makes him subject to MLB's international signing rules. The largest signing bonus that the Yankees could offer would be approximately $8 million.
"I think that he'd probably get a pretty good salary over here, but I think he wants to compete against the best," Girardi said. "I think that's great. That's what is in every competitor's heart. They want to match up against the best to see how they fare."
A right-handed thrower who bats left-handed, Ohtani has been slowed this season by an injured right ankle. Last season he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. In his Japanese career, he is 39-15 with a 2.60 ERA, striking out 601 against 187 walks in 522 1/3 innings.
Cashman has declined to comment about his trip to Japan, but Girardi sees value in being able to use a pitcher as a designated hitter on the days he does not pitch. In 52 games this season, Ohtani is batting .346 with seven homers and 28 RBIs; he is a career .286 hitter with 47 homers and 163 RBIs in 390 games over the past five seasons.
"I think you'd be concerned a little bit the day before his start, but it does create a unique situation where if he's able to DH, it kind of opens up another spot on your roster," Girardi said. "To me, at times if you needed to go to a six-man rotation, it becomes a lot easier with that spot open, and there's some different things that you can do."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.