Commissioner Rob Manfred knows the interest in Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani is going to be intense if he does, in fact, come via the posting system this offseason. But, despite the fact that CBA-imposed international free agency restrictions that will hold down Otani’s signing power to ridiculous proportions, Manfred is not worried about teams trying to get around the rules.
Manfred tells ESPN: “With respect to the speculation about what clubs are going to do, in today’s basic agreement structure, there’s only so much that you can do in an effort to avoid the rules, and I have an outstanding staff in New York,” Manfred said. “If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic that nobody’s ever heard of, you might get past us. Given the focus on Otani, not only by our office, but by the clubs as a group, I think that it’s very, very unlikely that a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught.”
He’s probably right about that, but what remains to be seen is precisely how the “rules” will be applied to Otani. Specifically, we wonder whether a team can “suggest” that they will give Otani a monster contract extension after his first year, and frame it as a typical pre-arbitration extension for a young star. Will that work if Otani has otherwise signed with that team for a paltry $300,000 (which he’d have to do to come to, for example, the Cubs)?
The Cubs aren’t the only penalty-boxed team that figures to try hard to get Otani, in any case.
The San Francisco Giants, similarly restricted to spending no more than $300,000 on any one international free agent right now, have sent some of their top brass to scout Otani, per the SF Chronicle and Mercury News. The reports suggest the Giants will try to persuade Otani to sign on the basis of their city, their team, their org, etc. The same things every team will be pitching to Otani, since money – at least signing bonus money – may not be the primary motivator for him.
The reports also have quotes from manager Bruce Bochy about two-way players probably not working in the National League, which … whatever the Giants actually think, it’s probably not a good idea to say right now publicly that you don’t see Otani as a two-way player, since that very well may be something he’ll look for in the signing process.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.