The prize of the Major League Baseball offseason officially became available on Friday, and teams are lining up to sign Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani has until Dec. 22 to sign with an MLB team, with his old team the Nippon Ham Fighters receiving a $20 million release fee from the winning team. The full court press begins in earnest this week, with teams lining up to meet with Ohtani and his representatives. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports described it, “The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes is kicking into overdrive.”
With good reason, as Ohtani in five years in the Japanese Pacific League has a 2.52 ERA with 624 strikeouts in 543 innings as a pitcher, and is a career .286/.358/.500 hitter with 48 home runs and 70 doubles in 403 games.
The rare double-threat talent has team executives swooning.
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Friday, “Ohtani represents the next great talent that’s available in the world of baseball,” and while at a charity event in Stamford, Conn. even made a plea to Ohtani from high atop a building.
Jerry Dipoto on his own podcast said his Seattle Mariners were prepared for this “one-time buying opportunity,” and that Ohtani represented something quite unique with his pitching and hitting talents.
“I’ve seen players hit a ball 500 feet and players throw a ball 100 mph,” Dipoto told Aaron Goldsmith. “I’ve just never seen one player do both of those.”
The Los Angeles Angels on Thursday absorbed the $5 million salary of reliever Jim Johnson and in doing so also added $1.21 million in international bonus slot money, with the intention of sweetening their potential bid for Ohtani. Angels GM Billy Eppler talked to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:
“It makes us stand out a little bit more in the crowd and puts us in the upper tier of clubs and the bonus they could pay,” Eppler said.
Because Ohtani is just 23 years old, he is two years shy of qualifying as a foreign professional per MLB’s collective bargain agreement, and thus is subject to international bonus pool limits rather than experiencing true free agency. The most any one team can offer Ohtani is roughly $3.5 million.
Instead of signing a long-term contract for, say, $200 million or so, Ohtani will subject himself to baseball’s archaic salary structure, with salaries close to the league minimum for his first three seasons followed by three years of arbitration when he will make more money but still far below what he would receive on the free market.
In other words, for a relative nominal posting fee some MLB teams are essentially getting a lottery ticket, with Ohtani immediately becoming one of the most valuable assets in the sport.
“There’s a lot of value there because once you get past the $20 million posting fee, you’re basically signing him like a Draft pick and he’s going to get a Minor League contract,” Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com. “It’s going to be interesting how that plays out. Based upon the way he projects, that’s a pretty good value. Our guys are watching it. We’ll be on it. Hopefully, we’ll get a crack at him.”
So it’s no wonder teams are falling all over themselves trying to sign the two-way star.