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Heyman | Otani could become baseball’s biggest bargain

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The word on the street has been that Shohei Otani is heading to the majors, which explains why there’s been a mad rush to get to Japan to see him. And while it never made much sense financially, reports out of Japan are indicating as much now, as well.

Whoever signs him will be signing up for a lottery ticket: a great player at a bargain price. While he isn’t about money — if he were, he could wait two years and cash in for $250 million plus — it may not hurt to have a little extra international bonus money around (to that end, the Yankees and Red Sox have acquired the most extra money, though it’s impossible to know how much is ticketed to Latin prospects, and the Dodgers just added some more extra money in trade).

The two-way superstar has been compared to Babe Ruth, and any team would be thrilled to get him, especially considering the bargain the superstar will be. The question seems to be: Why does he want to come over and give up the potential of a $250 million (or more) contract in two more years, when he could become an unfettered free agent?

By new CBA rules, if he comes now he can only get what teams have left in their international allotment. Teams started with between $4.75 million and $5.75 million, and a few acquired extra monies to enhance their chances at Otani (the Yankees, Red Sox and others) but much of the money has been committed to Latin players, and Otani get only what’s left of a team’s allotment, which could be a fraction of the full amount (the Yankees and Red Sox were said to have gathered the most money at around $8 million total).

We don’t know enough about him yet — for instance, how to spell his name, which has been alternated in the U.S. press as “Otani” and “Ohtani” – but give the fellow credit for leaving a lot of money on the table. He could make up some of the loss in endorsements if he fulfills the projection of an international superstar. And as far as that goes, folks would be shocked if he doesn’t become a major star.

Part of the deal is that he wants to hit as well as pitch, though pitching is said to be his “calling card.” His hitting is special, too, so that requirement won’t prevent any potential contender from pursuing him (presumably, he wouldn’t choose to go to a non-contender since he’ll have his pick of the lot).

Japan’s starter Shohei Otani pitches against South Korea during the first inning of their semifinal game at the Premier12 world baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Japan’s starter Shohei Otani pitches against South Korea during the first inning of their semifinal game at the Premier12 world baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

The general consensus is that he is the greatest Japanese talent in decades, maybe since Sadaharu Oh, but even if he’s not quite that, he appears to be a prodigy of immense proportions, with a 2.60 ERA and 47 home runs at age 24. The Ruth comparisons are predictable, and he would play right field (or DH) while not pitching. But his best skill appears to be on the mound, and to that end, we received this mini scouting report from one of the 32 major-league executives from 16 teams in attendance for his 5.2-inning scoreless outing this week:

“Good … little rusty with command but stuff is really, really good … sat 95-100 [mph] … plus cb [curveball], cutter … nasty good split.”

According to baseball-reference, Otani has hit .286/.359/.505 over 1124 plate appearances since 2013 with 47 home runs and 116 RBIs. As a pitcher, he has posted a 40-15 record to go with a 2.57 ERA, 1.074 WHIP and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over that same time while pitching 528 innings.

To put those numbers into perspective, Otani has hit like Justin Turner (Turner’s OPS of .862 since 2013 is just one point lower than Otani’s) while pitching like Zack Greinke (2.78 ERA since 2013).

Yep, he could become the biggest bargain in the history of baseball, maybe even topping David Ortiz’s original $1.25 million Red Sox deal.

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