Everybody is getting excited about Shohei Otani.
There’s good reason to salivate over Japan’s most intriguing player. This year, the 21-year-old was one of the best pitchers in Japan, going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings and walking just 2.9. In his career he is 39-13 with a 2.49 ERA and a career 10.3 K/9.
About a month ago, Otani set a Japanese record by throwing a pitch 103 mph, and routinely hums ‘em up there in the triple digits.
He’s seen by many observers as the next Yu Darvish, and could be the best pitcher to ever come out of Japan when he finally does post.
But that’s not all. He also does this.
Otani led the NPB in OPS this year (1.004) and hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 HRs, 18 doubles and 67 RBIs as a part-time designated hitter. He plays DH in the three days between starts, and does it pretty damn well.
It’s a two-way combination we have not seen in the Majors in recent memory, and it appears he could make the jump to the United States next off-season.
Under the new CBA, Otani isn’t old enough to avoid the strict new hard cap on international money, so the most he’d be able to get is about $5 million. Obviously, he won’t come over unless MLB tweaks their new system to allow Otani to seek a contract similar to what regular MLB free agents would get.
Nevertheless, it appears baseball wants to do whatever it can to get Otani to the Majors, and every Major League team who can afford him will want him on their roster.
CORRECTION... THAT LAST SENTENCE IS NOW REPORTEDLY GARBAGE:
MLB officials met today with int’t scouting directors. Said flatly, “There is no Otani exception.”— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2016
So, even if Otani is posted after 2017 season, he still would still be subject to new hard cap on int’l spending for players 25 and under.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2016
Otani is 22. CBA would need to be modified to allow him to negotiate with teams that pay posting fee. MLB not currently inclined to do that.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2016
So, “not currently inclined” could still mean he comes here at some point but whatevs.
If he does come over next year, the Phillies will certainly have the roster space and the payroll flexibility to pay Otani whatever he wants. Unfortunately, I just don’t see how Otani fits for the Phils, or any National League team, for that matter.
Otani’s value lies in his ability to be a game-changing starting pitcher AND a force at the plate. He is one of Japan’s best pitchers AND best sluggers, and while it’s fair to wonder if he would be as effective in the Majors doing both, it is his ability to have a dramatic impact in both areas that makes him so intriguing.
In Japan, Otani is the DH on those three days in between starts. He did play outfield until he injured his ankle on defense back in 2013. Since then, he has strictly been a designated hitter on the days he hasn’t pitched.
How likely is it, then, that he’s going to play the outfield on the three days he doesn’t pitch for a National League team? Not very.
Otani hasn’t said it publicly, but I can’t imagine he won’t want to continue being a two-way player in the Majors. It’s doubtful he’s going to want to be a pitcher only. And if that’s the case, he’s probably only going to go to a team that has the designated hitter.
In case you haven’t noticed, that ain’t the National League.
And no NL team is going to put him in the outfield on the three days in between starts, especially during those hot summer months when being in the field in sweltering conditions can sap the energy out of anyone. Doing so would make him a less effective pitcher on the days he does start, and it’s unlikely a National League team would want to run the risk of him getting injured playing defense, either. After all, there’s enough of an injury risk with him running the bases as a DH.
The only way it makes sense for Otani to be a true two-way player is for him to play in the American League, OR, if the National League does what I want them to do and adopt the DH within the next calendar year.
I’m not betting on the latter.
Therefore, as much as the Phillies might want him for their rotation and have his bat in the lineup every fifth day, it’s probably not going to happen. That’s a serious bummer, because this kid could be the most dynamic player in baseball once he arrives.
Of course, if Otani decides he wants to focus on pitching only, then the Phillies will certainly be one of the favorites to land him and this whole thing is moot. But assuming Otani wants to replicate his current situation in America, it is impossible for him to do that in the NL.