After a season that has been waylaid by a variety of injuries, Shohei Otani returned to the mound on Thursday in front of a very large contingent of MLB scouts.
The Tokyo Times reported that half of the 30 MLB teams had a representative in the stands to scout the top player in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Among those watching was Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. What they saw was a pitcher who is clearly not in midseason form, which is understandable since this is the first game he’s pitched in since July 21. He’s been slowed by an ankle injury and a thigh injury that has largely limited him to hitting for the majority of the season. The thigh injury sidelined him completely for two months and has limited him to hitting for much of July and August.
Otani’s hitting hasn’t been slowed much by the injuries. He’s hitting .342/.402/.548, although he does have just five home runs in 45 games this year after hitting 22 in 104 games last season.
But the injuries have largely kept him off the mound. This was only his second pitching appearance of the season. Otani touched 160 kph (99.4 mph) a few times and showed plenty of arm strength. But he allowed four runs in 3.1 innings with three hits, three walks and four strikeouts with a home run allowed as he lacked the control and command he normally has. The Pacific League posted a lengthy highlight reel of his outing from Thursday.
If/when Otani, 23, comes to the U.S., he will rank among the top available pitchers on the market, comparing favorably with any U.S. major league pitcher who is set to hit free agency in the next few years. He throws as hard as any starter in the U.S. (he’s touched 102 mph) and as an added bonus, he’s a legitimate prospect as a power hitter as well.
But getting him to the States in the next couple of years is going to be difficult. MLB and the NPB have a posting system that would allow the Fighters to set a release fee up to a maximum amount of $20 million for the right to sign Otani. For a player of Otani’s caliber, that $20 million is a very modest amount to pay. Under an older posting system, the Rangers bid $51.7 million to win the rights to negotiate a contract with Yu Darvish. Darvish then signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers, meaning Texas’ total outlay was more than $110 million.
Under the new CBA, Otani cannot receive anywhere near that contract if he’s posted after the 2017 or 2018 seasons.
The new CBA means that if Otani does come over this offseason, he would likely be giving up $100 million or more. Under the new CBA, any professional player coming from a foreign league who is under the age of 25 is subject to international bonus rules. That means that they are limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus that maxes out at just over $10 million if they had the maximum $5.75 million international spending allotment and acquired the maximum of 75 percent of that allotment additionally from other teams.
But even that amount is much too large. Twelve teams are prohibited from spending more than $300,000 because they exceeded their international bonus pools in the past two years, including the Cubs, Dodgers and Padres. Most of the remaining 18 teams have already spent the majority of allotment they have for the 2017-2018 signing period.
Before the new CBA, the cutoff age was 23 with five seasons of professional baseball, which would have meant that if Otani was posted this offseason he would be free to sign a major league contract with no limit on the bonus/contract he could receive. Otani will not turn 25 until midway through the 2019 season.
The new CBA also has very extensive language that is intended to prevent a team from circumventing the rules by making an under-the-table future deal. According to the CBA teams are prohibited from offering “anything of value other than the compensation and benefits contained in the Minor League contract.” Promises to tear up an initial contract and replace it with a larger contract in the future are also prohibited. Any team found in violation of the rules can be banned from signing players on the international market for a year or may have it’s international bonus pool cut in half for up to five years.