Though Japanese star Shohei Otani is generating a lot of discussion in MLB circles after his incredible two-way campaign in the NPB, he’s not a realistic candidate to come over this winter, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America explains. For one thing, his Japanese club — the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters — has no incentive to make him available, since they are capped at a $20MM transfer fee that they’d be sure to have available in future years. And Otani himself has good reason to wait, because at just 22 years of age he’d be subject to MLB’s current international bonus rules. While that could change if the CBA is modified, as things stand his signing would be subject to a 100% tax on the amount by which a bonus exceeds a team’s signing pools. Given his anticipated value, that would represent an enormous hit to his earning capacity. Plus, ten teams — the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Diamondbacks, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Royals and Blue Jays — wouldn’t even realistically be able to pursue him, since they are banned from giving out more than $300K to international players in this signing period. Otani pitched 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA, 11.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in NPB this season and also batted .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 382 plate appearances as a DH. In previous years, he’s also played in the outfield on days when he is not pitching.
More notes on the international scene…
- Major League Baseball has tendered a pair of status checks on Korean left-handers Kwang-hyun Kim and Woo-chan Cha, according to Jee-ho Yoo if Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. The Korea Baseball Organization informed MLB that both Kim and Cha are unrestricted free agents and free to sign with any domestic or international team. As Yoo notes, the agreement between MLB and KBO stipulates that MLB teams interested in signing Korean players must go through the status check via league offices before pursuing a KBO free agent. We’ve touched on both lefties here, and both could be viable options for big league clubs in a thin market for pitching. Of the scouts I’ve spoken to regarding Korean free agents, Kim draws stronger reviews, and some believe Cha may be better suited for ’pen work. Kim, 28, posted his third straight season with a sub-4.00 ERA this past year — no small feat in the hitter-friendly KBO. The SK Wyverns hurler worked to a 3.80 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 in 137 innings but missed some time with a midseason elbow issue. The 29-year-old Cha, meanwhile, had a 4.38 ERA with 6.9 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9 in 141 2/3 innings.
- Also via Yoo’s piece, left-hander Hyeon-jong Yang isn’t yet sure whether he’ll pursue opportunities in Major League Baseball for a second time. The 28-year-old southpaw was posted two winters ago and drew interest from the Twins and Rangers, but his Korean team, the Kia Tigers, didn’t accept the top bid for his services (presumably deeming it too low to part with their top pitcher). Yang has a 3.02 ERA with 7.2 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9 in his past 373 KBO innings, though he was significantly better in 2015 than in 2016.
- Former Padres/Astros/Rangers righty Anthony Bass announced on Twitter this week that after spending a season in Japan, he’s eyeing a return to the Majors. Bass, 29, posted a 3.65 ERA with a 71-to-47 K/BB ratio in 103 2/3 innings as a teammate of Otani with the Fighters en route to an NPB Championship this past season. In 278 1/3 innings at the big league level, Bass has a 4.40 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 47.8 percent ground-ball rate. Bass made 14 starts against 23 relief appearances in Japan and has also started 18 big league games and 87 minor league games, so he could try to pitch himself as a rotation option in a market that is devoid of quality starters.
- Right-hander Joe Wieland, who has appeared in the Majors with the Padres, Dodgers and Mariners, signed a one-year deal with Japan’s DeNa Yokohama BayStars last week, the team announced (Japanese link via Sanspo). Wieland will take home $825K, per the Sanspo report. Wieland appeared in one game with Seattle last year and has a 6.32 ERA in 52 2/3 Major League innings overall. The former fourth-round pick had Tommy John surgery back in 2012 early in his Padres career and was never able to fully recover and establish himself in the Majors. He’ll head to Japan for his age-27 campaign with the opportunity to earn significantly more than he would’ve were to have spent the bulk of the 2017 campaign in Triple-A once again.