At least half the teams in baseball, the Cubs among them, were reportedly on hand to witness Japanese phenom Shohei Otani’s recent start. A scout in attendance told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that Otani threw from 94-100 mph with spotty fastball command over 3.1 innings of work.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander allowed a three-run homer on the last pitch of his outing and left the game trailing 4-1, but was healthy. That’s the real key for a guy who has battled ankle and thigh injuries and was making only his second start of the season for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. I can’t imagine any of the scouts were turned off by the minor issues when their radar gun were lighting up like that, though.
Rosenthal listed 14 teams in addition to the Cubs that were in attendance, among them usual suspects like the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers. But NL Central rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were there as well, not to mention noted small-market players like Tampa and San Diego. Neither the large turnout nor the presence of the more payroll-conscious teams is a surprise, given the potentially minimal cost to sign Otani next season.
Should he choose to leave Japan for MLB in 2018 Otani would be subject to international signing restrictions set forth by the new CBA. Players who are younger than 25 and have played fewer than six seasons in a recognized foreign league are subject to a hard bonus cap that can go no higher than $10.06 million. And that’s only if a team in the highest bonus tier trades for the max amount of additional pool money.
Among the eight teams in that upper echelon, five (D-backs, O’s, Indians, Pirates, Padres) were reportedly at Otani’s start. The Cubs find themselves in the lowest tier of $4.75 million, which would give them the opportunity to max out their pool at $8.31 million if they were to trade for more money. That’s well shy of what those other teams can offer, but maybe a guy who’s willing to forego insane riches as true free agent doesn’t care about $1.7 million.
As a part of their penalty for exceeding their cap under the previous CBA, the Cubs are limited to a $300,000 max bonus for any individual player for the remainder of the 2017-18 signing period that began July 2. So in order for them to land Otani, he’d have to really not care about money. Like, at all.
And since he won’t turn 25 until July 5, 2019 — four days after the cutoff for a player’s age determination — Otani would have to wait two more years before accessing a truly massive contract. He’d still just be heading into his prime at that point, but the itch to jump to the highest level of the sport and test himself in MLB might be too strong to resist for that long.
Barring some kind of special exemption, the Cubs appear to be completely out of the running for the services of the two-way superstar. Though perhaps not in a direct way, that could be part of what’s spurring their continued interest in Justin Verlander. The aging vet would be much more expensive in the short term, but would not hinder plans to extend their current crop of young stars.
Sorry if I’m banging this Otani drum a little too much given the extreme unlikelihood of him ending up in Chicago, but I just can’t get enough of this stuff.