The best two-way prospect the game has seen in years has taken the baseball world by storm...and he’s not even in the MLB yet.
Japanese pitcher and outfielder Shohei Otani recently expressed his interest in bringing his talents to the states next season. Currently playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the NPB, Otani’s free agency will be a spectacle -- as virtually every club will be vying for his services.
As a talent, Otani can fill a role as a right-handed ace or as a big bat in the outfield. In 2016, Otani recorded a 1.86 ERA with a 10-4 record. The 22-year-old accrued this success on the mound while also recording a slash line of .322/.416/.588. He already possesses the size (6’4”, 200 lbs) and power (22 HR’s in 2016, fastball has topped at 101.9 mph) for the majors. For all intents and purposes, Otani has all the tools to be baseball’s biggest star.
Otani will enter free agency as the grand prize based on potential alone. In the free market, a polished prospect the caliber of Otani’s would fetch a king’s ransom. Due to the MLB’s rules on younger players, Otani is leaving a large sum of money on the table by joining the league next year. And by a large sum of money, we mean several hundred million. The league’s newest CBA prevents international players under 25 years of age from entering traditional free agency. As such, Otani would be playing under a glorified minor leaguer’s contract until he signs a deal after his 25th birthday.
This rule changes everything for teams looking to sign Otani. There will be no bidding war for his services. It won’t be about who can throw the most money his way. Rather, it will be purely on Otani’s shoulders to decide which team puts him in the best position to succeed. This opens the door for perennial juggernauts like the Dodgers and Cubs -– and other teams with extraordinarily high payrolls – to throw their hat into the mix. Every team truly has a chance here, making the 2018 offseason all the more fascinating.
On the surface, the National League would be a snug fit for Otani’s talents. His two-way prowess would be on full display being able to flash his lefty swing. The aforementioned Dodgers and Cubs are likely candidates, and the Giants have reportedly already done some due diligence on him.
If he doesn’t care all too much about hitting -- or if he decides to play the field full-time -- the American League has a slew of historically great franchises that could entice the Japanese phenom. The Yankees are always in play for big name free agents, as are the Red Sox. The Mariners could be in the discussion having already had ties to Japan with Ichiro. The Angels could look for Otani to be their next generational talent with the clouded future of Mike Trout.
As the MLB season winds down, more and more teams will inquire about the 23-year old -- ultimately igniting the most frenzied free agency courting process in recent memory.