It is being reported that the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, Shohei Otani, has elected to come to the U.S. this winter, and will be declared a free agent.
If you don’t know who he is by now, then you are about to become very familiar.
The hype train is coming, as virtually every major league team has the chance to land this excellent young player. Otani is a right-handed pitcher that regularly sits in the mid to high 90’s, with advanced secondary pitches. He went 10-4 in 2016 with a 1.86 ERA, and a 0.957 WHIP in 140 innings of baseball where he struck out 174 batters.
That alone would make him ridiculously valuable to any and all major league teams, but the man also likes to swing the bat. He has recorded a .505 slugging percentage in his 995 at bats in the Japanese League, where he has slugged 47 career home runs. In 2016, the left-handed hitter hit 22 bombs and recorded a .322/.416/.588 batting line in 323 at bats. He has plus power and a decent swing from the left-handed batter’s box. He is a special talent. And that is where the Babe Ruth comparison came from.
At 6′ 3″, he has excellent size. There will be no worry of him breaking down physically on the mound. Since he was 18, he has played for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and provided the team with tremendous value. He is a marketing team’s dream, as his ability is rare in this day and age of professional baseball. Fans flock to the game to witness this man play the game. If he were to play on a major league team, there would be expansive coverage of him.
Otani is leaving a year earlier than expected and, by doing so, is leaving a ton of money on the table. New MLB rules limit teams from treating players under the age of 25 as free agents. Since he is 23, the max amount he may receive is $10 million dollars. Virtually every team may negotiate with him, as money will not be a huge factor.
So, where does this leave the San Diego Padres?
We already know that A.J. Preller, Hideo Nomo, and company have seen Otani first-hand. Last month, they were in Japan with almost every other major league team as Otani made his return to the mound. He had been limited due to an ankle and thigh injury. We also know that the Padres have been all over Otani and have continuously attempted to build connections to him.
Shohei Otani will be posted this winter and play Major League Baseball next season, per multiple Japanese reports. https://t.co/0CVz5GGZdz
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 13, 2017
The Padres are limited to $300,000 in spending for this upcoming international period. That puts them in a terrible bind. They surely have interest in the two-way player, but they cannot offer him top dollar. Factor in that he is already losing a ton of money by signing this period, and the possibilities of him in a Padre uniform are slim. The Padres will have to be creative and Otani would need to fall in love with San Diego, for there to even be serious interest between the two sides.
That does not mean that the Padres aren’t viable players.
A.J. Preller recognizes the ability of this young man. Take a look at him hitting a home run earlier this season. His power is legit.
The Padres have an uphill battle in securing Otani. That is a fact. Preller and the Padres baseball operation team are trying to ramp-up their visibility in Japan. They are desperately attempting to build bridges to Otani and have been heavily linked to him. I would not count out the Padres just yet, as Preller has shown the ability to be very creative with his moves.
Otani has the ability to play the outfield, but most consider him a DH if he seriously wants to play on days he doesn’t pitch. That means American League teams are heavy favorites to land the young man. Most would agree, you do not want your prized pitcher roaming the outfield and risking injury. This is another strike against the Padres potentially signing the Japanese wonder, but perhaps they only envision him as a pitcher.
The Japanese two-way player is so exciting to watch. Check out this video of him hitting triple digits on the radar gun with his fastball. Otani has been clocked as high as 102 on the mound, and that cannot be taught. His hitting and ability to do so at the major league level may be in question, but he should easily be able to step into a rotation and be productive.
The Padres’ chances of signing Otani are very slim. They would need a small miracle.
That is fine, though. The fact that this team is even sniffing around a player like that is great in itself. Things are changing in Padreland. The team is becoming relevant and the front office is actually attempting to build wisely for the future. Shohei Otani would be an amazing addition to a rebuilding Padres franchise. The fact he is coming early is an indication that he is not all about the money. He is leaving a lot on the table, but how much would he willing to lose to join a franchise that has not had a strong identity or history of success? That is where Preller and his Japanese contingent step in and try to work their magic. We shall see what happens.