We recently mentioned Japanese ace Shohei Otani’s injury-troubled season, which could call into question previous reports that he’d planned to make the jump to MLB after this season.
That plan, you might recall, could cost him tens of millions of dollars thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which put even advanced and experienced international professionals like Otani under certain restrictions until they are 25. Otani, now 22, would see his signing bonus limited to around $10 million maximum this offseason. If he waited until the offseason after the 2019 season, many scouts and pundits believe he could sign for 20 times that amount.
So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us to learn via Jeff Passan that nobody really knows much of anything when it comes to Otani’s true plans.
Today, Jeff Passan put out a fantastic long read on Otani and the enduring mystery of baseball’s modern answer to Babe Ruth, and he best summed up the confusion in an anecdote he tweeted:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2017
Passan goes on to investigate whether it’s really true that Otani is going to come after this season and sacrifice so much money, and, if so, whether he’ll totally forget about the money and be willing to sign with teams in the IFA penalty box like the Cubs. Those teams can offer him no more than $300,000 to sign, after which he’d be under normal team control.
It has not been entirely ruled out.
(As you’ll recall, the Cubs are still in the IFA penalty box – which, if it sounds like you’ve heard that a lot, that’s because the penalty box lasts two years after the period in which the team blew out their IFA budget. And since most IFA commitments come at the start of a period, it already feels like it’s been a crazy long time since the Cubs over spent – back in 2015 – and it’ll be another year before they’re out of the penalty box.)
Everyone wonders, if Otani goes the route of signing after this season for relative pennies, will he then be permitted to sign a long-term, big-money extension after, say, a year? Since that’s a way around the IFA rules, we know that MLB would scrutinize that kind of deal very heavily, and the deal would presumably have to be in line with other extensions given to one-year service time players (which, again, would be far shy of the $200+ million he could theoretically get by waiting a few years).
Teams aren’t even really sure how hard Otani will press to sign with a team that guarantees he’ll be able to serve both as a pitcher and a positional player, according to Passan. Most believe he wants to hit, but does that mean he’ll want to be a DH in the AL on days he doesn’t pitch? A part-time outfielder in the NL?
All in all, it’s still just a big mystery. Which is fun, especially when it centers on a young player who might be one of the five most talented, overall, in the world.
From where I sit, even if Otani really cares a great deal about where he plays and what role he serves, I still have a hard time seeing a player give up SO MUCH money just so that he can come over to MLB a couple years early. And then I have an even harder time seeing him signing now for $300,000 when he can at least guarantee himself closer to $10 million. It’s not like we’re talking about the difference between $100 million and $105 million. The difference between $300,000 and $10 million is enormous. The difference between $10 million and $200 million is enormous.
Read Passan’s piece for much more, and we’ll keep on monitoring the Otani story in the coming months.