November 29, 2017


The Otani Sweepstakes got complicated as MLB nears to the actual start line for the posting of the Japanese star.

USA Today reports:

Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, asked teams not to submit financial terms. More significantly, restrictions on international signings will limit Ohtani's bonus to a maximum of about $3.5 million, depending on the club he chooses, and allow him to sign only a minor-league deal.

That makes him affordable to all teams, although they would also have to put up a posting fee of $20 million for the right to negotiate with him.

The letter asks the teams to provide information, in English and Japanese, on matters such as their player-development and medical staffs, their facilities, resources to ease Otani's assimilation and the desirability of the franchise, city and marketplace. It also requests the clubs' evaluation of Otani as a hitter and/or pitcher.

For all MLB teams, including the Cubs, landing Otani would be a coup. However, even though the agent is not saying money is not an issue (at this point), the final decision will be based on money.

The Cubs have had Japanese players on the team before, their performances did not reach expectations. There were never any reports of issues in communication between player and coaches. Chicago is an international city so the culture shock would be less. 

The issue of player development is interesting. It may be code for a "winning tradition" or the ability to win a championship now. The Cubs have recently been able to develop young hitters, but current management has a horrible record developing pitchers.

The medical staff issue is also interesting.  Most players do not have a concern about medical and training staffs because it is believed that all clubs have the same quality personnel. But maybe Otani's own medical history and/or how he treats his body with alternative medicine principles could be an issue for an American team.

The resources required to bring Otani into the clubhouse, city and American culture would include a translator, tutor and/or roommate who can guide the foreigner through the nuances of American baseball-celebrity life. Otani is only 23. He is young, but most reports indicate that he is mature for his age. But this would be his first time away from his native country. There needs to be a strong support system to avoid him becoming home sick which could lead to performance issues. One strong MLB team with connections to Japan is the Mariners, who are building resources to try to sign Otani. Seattle has a large Asian community and is closer to Japan than Midwest and East Coast teams.

The desirability of the franchise means the ability to win championships and to have a national presence (for endorsements). The Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox would be the top tier national franchises. Again, a team like the Mariners would immediately make Otani the face of their franchise.

All MLB scouts rate Otani above average as a pitcher and hitter. The consensus is that he is a four-pitch #1 starter as a pitcher and a potential 35 HR corner outfielder. Otani wants to be a two way player (the first full timer since Babe Ruth). In most people's minds, that means that an American league team would be the most likely landing spot since Otani could DH when not pitching. But if Otani wants to play in the outfield, then that makes an NL team a possibility. Most 90 percent of all teams do not want to risk injury for a "gimmick" player - - -  if Otani's value is as a #1 ace, then his pitching routine, rest between starts and ability to throw take absolute precedence over playing in the field. 

For the Cubs to accommodate Otani's request, the team would have to get rid of one or two outfielders (Schwarber, Almora or Happ).   The Cubs have been unwilling to entertain any serious offers for any of these young players. And it would be risky to trade one of them on the unknown of whether Otani can adapt as a hitter to American pitchers.

 The Cubs are probably near the bottom of potential Otani suitors (even though there are media reports that the Cubs are trying very hard to sign him.) The Cubs can only offer him 1/10th of the potential signing bonus ($300,000) and pay him the minimum ($545,000) for two years. Otani and his agent are not going to walk away from $3 million from another club who can make the same accommodations outlined in the agent's letter.