Hideki Matsui, former Yankees star and current special advisor for New York, is expected to play a major role in the pursuit for Shohei Otani. Otani, the Japanese two-way star, is hoping to bring his talents to the MLB, but the Players Association is standing in the way.
Typically, when a player like Otani becomes available to sign, there is a massive bidding war. Because of his age, only 23, the signing will mirror more of a college recruitment process, rather than a typical negotiation for an MLB free agent. The club that ends up signing Otani will be forced to pay a posting fee to his Japan Pacific League team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Under the most recent posting system, according to Baseball America, the “fee was capped at $20 million, but there is no current posting agreement between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.” An agreement needs to be announced before Otani can come to the US. The goal is to lower the costs of the bids, especially after we saw Nippon Ham Fighters receive a $51 million posting fee from the Rangers for Yu Darvish.
According to the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Otani would have been eligible to be a true free agent if posted this offseason, not subject to any bonus restrictions” (Baseball America). Unfortunately, under the current CBA, the age cutoff to become exempt from the bonus pools was altered to 25, after it was previously 23.
Because of this, Otani would have to sign a minor league deal. Otani could earn some extra cash in his signing bonus, but this only allots to a few million because teams do not have a lot lying around in their 2017-18 international bonus allotments.
If Otani decided to come after the 2019 season, he would have a chance to sign as a true free agent, and receive a contract that is north of $150 million. There is even a chance that his signing bonus will be less than the money he would earn if he stayed in Japan for the upcoming season. All in all, teams will have to sell Otani on why he should come play in their city, rather than flaunting money in his face.
Just how good is he?
In 2017, as a member of the Fighters, Otani in 231 plate appearances, hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. As a pitcher, he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA. In 2016, while starting 20 games, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, and struck out 174 batters in just 140 innings of work. As a hitter, he hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.
Otani hopes to hit and pitch in the MLB, but will be able to pull it off?
“It’s difficult,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview. “It depends on the quality of both skill sets. The usage and the expectations of it will really come into play. It’s going to take a special player to do both. It’s hard enough to do one or the other.”
That is a polite way of saying Otani will not be able to do both. There is no shot someone would be able to put up numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. The whole “Japan’s Babe Ruth” talks need to stop.
First off, there are only six teams in the league that Otani plays in. Six, which means that there are far less players to game plan for. Also, if we are looking at Otani as a pitcher, the guy has never thrown over 200 innings. If you think he is just going to come over here and dominate, then you are mistaken my friend. At least Yu Darvish had four seasons of 200+ innings before making the move to the MLB.
The most innings Otani has ever thrown was 160, back in 2015. He has totaled 543 innings in his five seasons. Before jumping to the MLB, Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown over 1,400 innings. Hiroki Kuroda had over 2,000 under his belt before signing with the Dodgers. Both were unable to make an All-Star team and did not sustain consistent success in the states.
In 2008, Hisashi Iwakuma, a member of the Golden Eagles, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings. Iwakuma has had a solid couple of years in the states, but nothing special. This is a guy who logged over 1500 innings in Japan, yet is an average pitcher at best.
Sure, his 2016 offensive stats were really good, but he had less than 330 at-bats. Does anyone remember Kosuke Fukudome? Before signing with the Cubs, Fukudome had some monster seasons in the same league that Otani plays in. In 2003, Fukudome hit .313 with 34 home runs and 96 RBIs. The year before, he hit .343 in over 600 plate appearances. In five MLB seasons, Fukudome was a career .258 hitter and hit a total of 42 home runs. Translation, even a full-time hitter, who mashed in Japan, struggled to hit over .250 in the MLB.
What about Akinori Iwamura? As a member of the Yakult Swallows in 2004, Iwamura hit 44 home runs with 103 RBIs. The following season, he hit 30 more home runs and drove in 102. In 2006, Iwamura hit .311 with 32 home runs. In his four MLB seasons, Iwamura hit .267 with 16 total home runs. I think it’s fair to say that the competition is a tad different.
If Otani comes to the MLB for the 2018 season, he will be one of the most over-hyped busts of all-time. He does not have the experience as a pitcher to perform over the course of an MLB season and his offensive stats do not even resemble guys like Iwamura and Fukudome, two boarder line scrubs in the MLB.
If Otani was smart, he would stay in Japan and focus on his game. He should pitch two more seasons in Japan, throw at least 200 innings in both of them, and then receive a monster $100-million-dollar contract from an MLB team if he performs. Instead, he is going to come over to the MLB, prove he is not elite at pitching or hitting, and miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars.
Featured image by SI.com
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