Earlier today, Brett texted me and said something along the lines of, “I saved a draft at Bleacher Nation for you to work on … you’re going to like it.”
So, like a kid on Christmas morning, I jumped up excited to see what baseball surprise was waiting to bring my joy, and you know what, it did not disappoint:
If you’re confused about why I’d be celebrating the absence of a young, talented, and exciting player from MLB, let me remind you that if he decided to come this winter, the Cubs would have almost certainly been out of the running to secure his services.
Indeed, each of the Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, White Sox, Reds, Astros, Royals, Athletics, Cardinals, Padres, Giants and Nationals are prohibited from signing international amateurs – like Otani – for more than $300,000 until at least July 2, 2018 – a sum far less than he’s sure to generate.
If Otani waits until next offseason (2018-2019) to come to the United States, however, the Cubs will be free of their IFA penalties and have a legitimate shot at signing him (a shot that’d be further bolstered by the fact that many other teams would be incapable of signing him for more than $300,000 like the Cubs are now). He would still be subject to IFA restrictions, but at least the Cubs would more or less be on an even playing field.
Of course, the flip side of that is that if Otani, 23, waited just one more year after that (2019-2020 offseason), he’d be old enough and have enough professional experience to sign for any amount, with any team. If that happened, you’d see the price tag soar through the roof, and the Cubs would be in a bidding war with almost every other team in baseball.
If you’re wondering why Otani had the sudden change of heart (regarding when he’ll ultimately come to the United States/MLB), you might consider that he’s been injured for the majority of this season and has made only one start in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
Ohtani missed the World Baseball Classic with an ankle injury and suffered a thigh injury early in the regular season. He allowed four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in his lone pitching appearance with the Fighters this year.
Now, to be sure, even an injured Otani – with 100% certainty – would generate enough interest from MLB teams get the full $20 million posting fee (paid to his team) and the (thanks to the new CBA) $5 to $10 million maximum bonus allowed (paid to Otani). He’s just that good, and that goes double considering his injuries were not arm related. But there may be more to it than that.
I don’t want to make too much of something we couldn’t possibly know too much about, but Ira Stevens, managing director and founder of the Japanese scouting service ScoutDragon, has suggested to Morosi that Otani feels a sense of “duty” and “obligation” to his team (something apparently known in Japan as giri), after missing nearly the entire 2017 season. And he may want to give his team and fans one more season in the NPB before crossing over to the states.
Could that really be the reason? I suppose so, and hey, he’s a young guy, he’s got plenty of life ahead of him. But at the same time, Otani and his managers are probably intimately familiar with which teams are capable of signing him this winter and which are not. If Otani simply prefers one of the teams who are scheduled to free up next July, he may be waiting for that reason as much as giri.
In any case, this is really fantastic news for the Cubs, who may have just gotten a huge boost to their chances of signing one of the most exciting players on the planet. Sure, those chances might max out at something like one in ten, but that’s a heck of a lot better than no chance at all.