This week, reports out of Japan indicated that Shohei Otani, the 23-year-old two-way superstar from Japan, would be coming over to the United States to join an MLB team. The reports were significant, because Otani’s signing power is presently limited – in the extreme – by the International Free Agency rules in MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which set hard caps for teams to spend in IFA.
For that reason, we knew Otani would be able to sign this offseason for mere millions instead of the possible hundreds of millions he could get if he waited just two more years.
Now we know how many millions, if this ESPN report is correct. By its calculations, the Rangers and Yankees have the most money remaining in their hard-capped spending pool, and it’s only right around $3.25 to $3.5 million. If Otani comes this offseason, that’s the absolute most he could get.
It’s a reminder that, if Otani indeed seeks to be posted by his NPB team this offseason, he’s not doing it for the riches. And then it makes you wonder further if the Cubs could really have a shot. Regardless of how much the Cubs have left in their IFA pool, they are limited by IFA penalties imposed for their overspending a year and a half ago. The Cubs can spend no more than $300,000 on a player.
Is the gulf between $300,000 and $3.5 million really that large when you consider that the real gulf Otani is considering is dropping from $150 to $200 million (in two years) to just $3.5 million? Like we discussed earlier, it’s conceivable that Otani could sign with whichever team he truly wants to join, and then sign a significant pre-arbitration extension after one year with his new club.
The Cubs are going to pursue Otani if he’s made available, and they’ll do their best to figure out an offer that works. The fact that the maximum another team could spend on him at this point is only $3 million more than the Cubs would seem to be a slight boon to their chances (and more underscoring that this isn’t about money for him).
To me, though, this also calls into question just how real it is that Otani is definitely coming this offseason, and, if he is, whether there will be some kind of special considerations made for him.
On that second point, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested to ESPN that MLB isn’t looking to make any kind of exception for Otani, instead believing that having a uniform system is more important. If Otani wants to max out his earnings, the implication is that the league is fine with him waiting two more years to come.