At some point, the sweepstakes is expected to begin for the player known as the “Babe Ruth of Japan.” This magic could happen as early as 7 p.m. tonight.
Shohei Otani is possibly the most sought after free agent this offseason. That is if or when he becomes available to major league teams.
The MLBPA did extend their deadline to finalize an agreement regarding the transfer system for players moving between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball. The stopping point is at 7 p.m. Parties in interest are expected to continue negotiating in hopes of finding an agreement on posting rules that will allow clubs from NPB to make certain players available to MLB teams. The rules call for the Japanese club to set a maximum $20-million posting fee and any MLB club willing to bid that amount would be able to negotiate with a player such as Otani for 30 days.
The Rangers are considered to be among those in the running for landing Otani. The 23-year old played both outfield and pitcher in five seasons for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The left-handed hitter has 48 home runs and 166 RBI in 403 career games. His slugging percentage is an even .500 with a .859 OPS. At 6-foot-5, Otani is very athletic with raw power. If he was just a hitter alone, teams would still roll out the red carpet for him.
On the mound, Otani went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts during that same stretch. While he hits from the left side of the plate, Otani is a righty when he totes the rubber. His fastball has been clocked as high as 102 mph and touches triple digits regularly. Otani throws in a nasty splitter and slider that’s just as good.
Otani wants to be a two-way player in the big leagues and will likely get that opportunity if everything works out as planned. Scouts feel he has the tools to do it, the only remaining question is which uniform will he be wearing.
The New York Yankees are considered the front-runners in the sweepstakes, with the Los Angeles Dodgers mentioned in the same breath. The Yankees have already started making roster moves in what might be considered to make space for Otani.
However, Texas is also in the mix and may have one big advantage on their side. Let’s talk international bonus pool money.
The Rangers come in with over $3,535,000 in international bonus pool money remaining, $285-thousand more than the Yankees. The Minnesota Twins are the only other team with at least $3 million to invest in signing bonus. Money talks and the Rangers are banking that Otani will listen to them.
Don’t forget, the Rangers were able to pony up the money and shock the “big-market” clubs in 2012 to land another player from the Nippon Ham-Fighters- a right-handed pitcher named Yu Darvish.
Let’s also not forget the Darvish aspect in all of this. Otani grew up idolizing Darvish, which a few months ago probably made the Rangers the favorite. However, after Darvish was sent to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, things got a little more interesting.
Darvish is now a free agent, and where he lands could possibly impact the pursuit of Otani. Could you see both in a Rangers uniform next season? Chances are you are more likely to see Otani on the field in Arlington than Darvish. However, crazier things have happened.
The Rangers have had success in the past in bringing in international free agents and making them feel at home. They are banking on that magic once again.