Shohei Otani is baseball’s white whale.
It’s not hard to understand why a 23-year-old, two-way player, pitching and slugging in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League has become the most sought after player on the planet, but it sure is tantalizing. And with every passing day, 100+ MPH fastball, and monster shot home run, his legend grows.
Of course, before the Collective Bargaining Agreement was updated last winter, Otani’s legend was about to become MLB’s everyday reality. But now, 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 he were to come over this offseason.
Or maybe not …
Yesterday, Otani threw a 58-pitch pre-game bullpen session, just before going 3-3 with a walk at the plate. The bullpen session is noteworthy on it’s own (Otani has been injured a lot this year, and thus hasn’t thrown much), but that’s not actually the biggest news.
8 people from the Dodgers, including Andrew Friedman and Orel Hershiser, were at the game. https://t.co/1IFQK1DO6B
— Kazuto Yamazaki (@Kazuto_Yamazaki) August 20, 2017
Scroll back up to that list of teams who’ll (essentially) be unable to sign Otani to the sort of deal it’ll ultimately take to get him and you’ll see the Los Angeles Dodgers right there behind the Cubs. And yet, for some reason, the Dodgers sent not only eight scouts/executives to Japan, but also their top dog and President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman.
I’m going to make a big speculative leap here, but I’m willing to bet the Dodgers’ president isn’t traveling around the world to see Shohei Otani just because he’s a big baseball fan. Or even to do some opposition scouting.
Instead, I’m guessing this means one of two things. The first possible scenario is that the earlier word of Otani’s desire to stay in Japan for one more season is becoming a reality. Which would mean that teams in the penalty box, like the Dodgers and Cubs, could stand a shot at signing him next offseason (2018-2019), and Friedman is simply taking this opportunity to see Otani for himself/lay some ground work.
Or – and don’t get too excited, because who knows if this’ll happen – perhaps it’s possible that Friedman has become aware of a way Otani can sign with teams in the penalty box this winter, despite the new CBA rules that would otherwise seem to restrict players like Otani.
If the latter is legitimately on the table, you can bet the Chicago Cubs would be in line right there behind the Dodgers wanting Otani … as would every other team in baseball.
Again, there’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is the case, but it’s certainly not normal for an executive at Friedman’s level (highest in baseball) to bounce all over the world for a player who might not even be available to his team (or any team, for that matter). I don’t think we’ll actually find out what this trip was all about, whether the Dodgers can sign Otani, or if he’s even coming to the States this winter any time soon, but it sure is a notable event and something we thought needed to be on your radar.
It’s also worth pointing out at this time that if Otani somehow becomes available to MLB teams without any kind of spending restrictions, that would be good news because it puts the Cubs in the race … but the Dodgers would still be the solid favorites to close a deal, given their vast resources.
If the story changes or new rumors break out, we’ll be sure to let you know. Otani rumors have become very cloudy in recent months, but one thing is for sure: you can’t count the Cubs out yet.