A legitimate sense of mystery shrouds Japanese star Shohei Otani, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, as Major League scouts and general managers have no idea whether the 22-year-old phenom will actually enter the posting system and leap to Major League Baseball this offseason. Passan spoke to at least five general managers and multiple scouts for his extensive column, which I’d highly recommend reading in full.
There’s skepticism that Otani will actually leave NPB this offseason, as doing so would mean subjecting himself to MLB’s newly reconfigured international bonus system, which will undoubtedly cost him more than $200MM. Otani’s maximum payday this winter would be $10.1MM, Passan notes, and while many have speculated about Otani quickly signing a multi-year extension after inking his initial deal, that may not be likely. Passan cites multiple “high-ranking sources at MLB” in reporting that “the league expects to be vigilant to ensure the sanctity of the system is not made a mockery by extralegal payments.” Then again, Major League Baseball intervening in a contract would certainly be a bad look, and Passan wonders if the league would actually follow through on such an extreme measure.
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Passan’s survey of big league front offices and scouting departments resulted in many within the game speculatively connecting the Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Yankees, Cubs and Astros to Otani, although the clear takeaway is that no one really knows who the favorite would be. Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune, in fact, suggests that the connection to the Padres is largely overblown (all Twitter links), especially considering the fact that they’d be limited to a $300K signing bonus.
Several American League clubs believe themselves to have an inside edge over their National League rivals due to Otani’s desire to continue as a two-way player in MLB, Passan continues. Serving as a DH and then pitching every fifth day seems more feasible than playing the outfield between starts.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Otani has yet to even pitch in 2017 and has been limited to eight games as a designated hitter. Otani missed the World Baseball Classic due to an ankle injury and has yet to take the mound because a hamstring injury that Japanese media outlet Sponichi recently reported would keep him out until at least July. A recent report from Japan’s Nikkan Sports revealed that Otan threw a 31-pitch bullpen session but did so at a distance of less than the standard 60 feet and did not throw at full strength.
The injury isn’t likely to be a significant detriment to Otani’s market, though. Teams familiar with Otani are well versed in his repertoire and his skills at the plate, having seen him extensively in the past. The questions stemming from his injury wouldn’t center around a lack of ability to gather relevant scouting data, but rather whether interested teams need to have long-term concerns about these injuries either lingering or recurring. And all of that, of course, assumes he even enters the posting system this winter in the first place, which is hardly a given.