Sports Illustrated today released a feature article on Japan’s two-way superstar Shohei Otani (sometimes spelled “Ohtani”), a player in whom an organization like the Cubs would have great interest (and, in fact, have been rumored to have a great interest). Even simply as a feature piece on a uniquely talented baseball star – Otani is both one of the best pitchers and best hitters in Japan, and is only 22 – it’s a great read.
Within, though, there are a couple pieces updating the long-running question of whether Otani would be posted by his NPB team after this season, in spite of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s limitations on what he could earn.
From the sound of things, the answer is yes. From the SI piece:
“Ohtani is coy when asked directly, but even the Fighters’ executives admit that this will likely be his final season in Japan ….
While neither party will confirm the particulars, the team [the Nippon Ham Fighters] clearly seems to have made an agreement with the Ohtani family: When Shohei was ready declare yosh ganbarimasu (‘I’m gonna go for it’), the Fighters would not stand in his way. Rather, they would agree to ‘post’ him, taking the negotiated fee from a major league team (currently $20 million), relinquishing his rights and wishing him well.”
So, then, if Otani is ready to come now, instead of waiting three more years and avoiding the CBA’s limitations, he could max out his signing bonus at about $10 million. From there, he’d be under normal team control for six years, during which he’ll be going year to year, and plausibly could make upwards of $50 million (but only if he’s really producing and healthy). Were he posted free and clear this offseason? He’d probably sign for something close to $200 million. The difference is staggering.
Of course, people have been speculating about an Otani exception or loophole since December, and SI offers a little more mystery there: “All may not be lost, though. Multiple sources tell SI that there could be loopholes that allow Ohtani to avoid this cap.”
What exactly does that mean? Well, I’m sorry to say that it’s left hanging like that. MLB has been vigilant about enforcing international signing restrictions, so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s available to Otani, and the team that signs him.
Will it be the Cubs?
… probably not. Although they were rumored to already be saving a war chest to go after Otani, the new CBA really threw a wrench into things by raising the age of players subject to IFA rules from 23 to 25. Otani turns 23 this summer.
Why does that impact the Cubs? Because they’re still in the penalty box for blowing out their IFA budget in the 2015-16 signing period. That means, until July 2018, the Cubs cannot sign any player for more than a $300,000 signing bonus. Even if Otani loves the Cubs more than he loves hitting dingers, he’s not going to sign with them for $300,000 when he can get 33 times that amount from other teams.
Unless, of course, whatever loophole is being discussed would make Otani available equally to all teams. I won’t get my hopes up until I hear particulars, though.
Even then, there’s a question of whether Otani would want to sign with a National League team, where he would have to play a defensive position on days he’s not pitching in order to hit regularly. There’s no question he’ll want to be a two-way player in MLB, so an American League team – with the DH – probably looks much more appealing.
In any case, whether it’s with the Cubs or another team, seeing Otani in MLB would be a whole lot of fun, and I’m certainly pulling for it. The guy is a stud.