I wasn’t expecting to get a rush of adrenaline on this otherwise normal Wednesday afternoon, but here we are with a fresh and exciting rumor connecting the Chicago Cubs to Japanese superstar Shohei Otani.
But before we get 1000 miles ahead of ourselves, let’s be clear: this isn’t a rumor for this offseason. Heck, it might not even be a rumor for next offseason (we’ll get to that in a second). But it is still a supremely noteworthy item, so let’s get right into it.
Buster Olney is hearing that the Chicago Cubs may be holding their dollars this offseason in an effort to gear up for a big run at pitching next offseason, including Japanese starting pitcher (and potentially great hitter) Shohei Otani next offseason. Whew.
Although they could have theoretically gone after one of the pricier, and perhaps better, bats than Jon Jay (the Cubs’ affordable $8 million signing last night), Olney has heard that the Cubs may be stashing their money for a big (and definitely way more expensive than you’re thinking right now) pursuit: “A star pitcher and designated hitter, Otani will be the most sought-after player next winter, and rival executives believe the Cubs will be all-in on that pursuit.”
I’m fairly confident that you know who Otani is by now, but if you don’t, he’s a 22-year old phenom who annually leads the NPB (Japan’s professional league) on both sides of the ball. Indeed, after the 2016 season, Otani was named to the Pacific League’s Best Nine (think All-Star) team, as both a pitcher and the designated hitter. That’s the first time it has ever happened (he also just crushed a ball through the Tokyo Dome), so, yeah. He’s special.
But before you buy your Otani jersey just yet, there are a couple caveats up front.
First of all, it’s not entirely clear where these rumors originate and just how confident in them we can be, as “rival executives” is pretty loose and often speculative (on the part of the executives, not necessarily Olney). It’s a fair guess that the Cubs would be interested in a player like Otani, because obviously, but we have to acknowledge that, even when there’s a specific (and exciting) rumor like this, there could be some measure of speculation involved.
Secondly, Otani doesn’t actually *have* to be posted next offseason, as his team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, can continue to get all they can out of him before posting him just before in his final season under contract, as we’ve discussed before. With the posting fee capped at $20 million (for now), they have no incentive (other than avoiding injury) not to wait.
With that said, Otani would probably have a significant preference to be next offseason as opposed to the next year, given the huge 2018 MLB free agent class. Despite how awesome he is, there will be far more options that year that could theoretically depress the overall price of his expectedly enormous contract. Furthermore, there’s already been an air of inevitability floating around when folks discuss Otani coming to MLB after the 2017 season, for whatever an “air” is worth.
One more thing: the rules governing the posting system could change as soon as next year, for all we know. If, for some unexpected reason, the posting cap is eliminated or lifted, the calculus on the posting timing could change. In short there are a ton of unknown variables surrounding Otani’s potential posting.
But the good news is that the Cubs are rumored to be interested and preparing. Very interested.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.