Thursday, November 9, 2017
MLB rules prohibit the Yankees from blowing away the competition when it comes to paying Shohei Otani.
But they’ll still have advantage over 28 other teams when it comes to how much they can offer the 23-year-old, two-way star from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, assuming he’s eligible to come to the majors in 2018.
The Bombers can offer Otani a $3.25 million signing bonus, according to a report from the Associated Press. Only the Rangers, at $3.535 million, can offer more. The Twins are next, at $3.245 million.
Other big market clubs can offer the following: Red Sox ($462,000), Cubs ($300,000), Dodgers ($300,000).
It must be noted, however, that Otani isn’t coming over strictly for the money. If that were the case, he’d wait until he turns 25, when there is no limit on how much teams can offer.
I’d like to think this is an advantage, but Otani doesn’t seem to be the type who cares about money as the last sentence notes.
I’m fairly certain the Yankees will pursue Otani heavily, and they should. But so should every single team in baseball. I would think AL teams will have an advantage as he’s pretty much strictly a DH when he’s not pitching now (has not seen the OF since six games in 2014).
The question we obviously must ask is how good will Otani be? We can look at what he’s done so far in Japan, courtesy of Baseball Reference First, here are his offensive numbers. As noted, although he played some OF his first two years, he’s been strictly a DH for the last three.
That 2016 line really grabs your attention. He has fought some injuries in 2017 but his production is still pretty solid, albeit with a bit less power.
Here’s are his lines on the mound.
Injuries have kept Otani off the mound for a lot of 2017. For what it’s worth, here’s how a couple of other recent Japanese pitchers that came over to MLB did through age 22.
On a rate basis, Otani’s been just about as good as Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish were through the same age, although they both were able to log significantly more innings. Darvish pitched for the same team as Otani but Tanaka also pitched in the Pacific League, which uses the DH.
Anyway, what he’s done so far in a different league may give us some inkling of his talent but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what he would do in MLB. I’ve finished up my first set of CAIRO 2018 and although it may change, here’s the first crack at projecting Otani as a DH.
The average slash line for DHs in the AL last year was .243/.317/.418. Given Otani’s youth and the fact that he bats left-handed, it’s not crazy to think he could give you that 65% forecast out of DH if he were a Yankee.
Otani isn’t really being looked at for his offense though. While there’s some potential to get some offense out of him, teams want him for his arm.
The standard caveats about projections apply, but in Otani’s case doubly so. That being said, you can sign Otani and imagine getting 10 WAR out of him at the plate and on the mound. But even if he just hits that 35% forecast as a pitcher and as a hitter, he’s still going to a valuable player to have. And you can dream on his tools and the potential to market him as a true two-way player, the likes of which the game hasn’t seen Brooks Kieschnick or Micah Owings.
On the mound, Ohtani has as good a fastball as anyone in baseball. He’s been up to 102 mph and touches triple digits with some regularity. Ohtani throws a nasty splitter and a slider that’s just as good, and it all comes from a loose, athletic, 6-foot-5 frame and delivery.
“He’s every bit of a top-end-of-the-rotation starter,” said another international scouting director who saw Ohtani pitch recently. “He threw well the other day, even if his command was a little off. The stuff is there. He has all the pitches he needs. He’s 23 and everything works. He’s shown he can put it together in the Japan League. For me, he would go straight to the big leagues and figure it out there.”
That report alone—three plus pitches, with a tall and athletic frame to go along with easily repeatable mechanics—would be more than enough to have teams line up to try and sign Ohtani. But even those who feel the arm is ahead of the bat agree there are some impressive offensive tools to consider.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” the second scouting director said. “At 6-foot-5, he’s a long-lever guy. He has shortened up his swing a little and has the chance to hit for some power. When you have a top-end-of-rotation guy, he’s more of a pitcher for me. But he has the chance to be a good hitter. He’s a very, very good athlete.”
“Ohtani is already hitting really well at [Japan’s] highest level,” a third director said. “But you don’t see the pitching there that you see here.”
The first scouting director said he’d put Ohtani’s raw power among the best of any player at any level currently and also had recorded home-to-first times at 3.9 seconds, which is well above average and a part of his game not often discussed. All agreed that if Ohtani wanted to just hit, teams would be very interested in his services.
I’ve read that Otani idolizes Darvish and whomever signs Darvish will have an edge in signing Otani as well. Combined with the fact that they have the most to offer him and are probably interested in bringing back Darvish, I’d say the Rangers are probably the favorites to wind up with Otani. But it would awesome if the Yankees somehow managed to snag him.
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