Game 146, Mariners at Rangers – Shohei Otani

marc w · September 13, 2017 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

My Clique vs. Martin Perez, 5:05pm

The M’s remain 3.5 games behind the Twins in the wildcard chase, and while it’s fun to see how well Mike Leake’s adjusted to the AL, their odds of winning this particular race remain slim. As such, it’s not a shock that M’s fans now have a great distraction from 2017’s frustrations: Shohei Otani is going to be posted. There are two main reasons to think the M’s could be in the running to win the right to offer him an absurdly below-market-value contract.

First, there’s the M’s demonstrated interest. Jerry Dipoto attended Otani’s first start of the year the other day along with the M’s scouting director, Tom Allison. As a two-way player who’s currently a starter and DH, an AL team may make the most sense for him, as he could rack up more total ABs in the junior circuit than he would in the NL. A former OF, a team could conceivably use him in an OF corner, but given his (non-arm) injury history, I think most would be loathe to expose Ohtani to that much risk. The M’s history with Japanese players and Seattle’s spot on the West coast with non-stop flights to Japan may help a bit, too.

Second, and perhaps much more importantly, Ohtani can’t make his initial decision based on his initial contract. Last year’s changes in the CBA affected the posting system in a way that seemed designed to personally impact Otani. Previously, 16-23 year olds were subject to the international bonus pools, designed to stop teams from lavishing multi-million dollar deals on teenage prospects in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Players older than 23, and thanks to the NPB’s rules on free agency, it was essentially impossible to have a player posted younger than that, weren’t subject to that system, and could sign with the highest bidder. That’s why, say, Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish generated huge posting fees and signed significant major league contracts. It’s why Yoenis Cespedes could sign a 4-year deal and reach free agency faster than a regular draft pick or international signing. The new CBA raises the age to which the international bonus pool rules apply to 25. Otani’s age? 23. Thus, Darvish/Tanaka/Cespedes money is officially off the table, and posting fees themselves are now capped at $20 million. Whichever team signs him is going to get a ridiculous bargain, and at least at the outset, a willingness to break the bank for a long-term contract isn’t relevant the way it usually would be.

But wait, haven’t a bunch of teams blown past the international bonus pool caps, accepted the penalties, and gone about their business? Why wouldn’t some team thrown $100 million at Otani if the penalty means they’d have to take a break on signing international 16-year olds for a while? The new CBA prevents that as well, by turning the bonus pools into hard caps. If you wanted to design a set of rules *specifically* to prevent Shohei Otani from coming to MLB in 2018, I’m not sure you could’ve done better than what the league and player’s union did last year. And yet he’ll be here next year.

That doesn’t mean that teams aren’t feverishly working to get around the restrictions they agreed to in the CBA. Dave Cameron’s article notes that a team could have an under-the-table agreement to sign a multi-year extension, though that would probably have to wait until after Otani’s first year in the majors – otherwise, MLB would likely revoke the contract as an obvious attempt to dodge the rules. He further mentions both opt-outs and an opt-IN to arbitration, so if the player thought he could make more than his contract through arbitration, that option would be available; Jose Abreu’s contract with Chicago had this, and he used it to get a small raise this year. Players like Chris Sale and Evan Longoria signed team-friendly extensions soon after arriving in the majors, and one-time Astros 1B Jon Singleton famously signed an extension while still in the minors. Otani won’t BE in the minors, and MLB will probably police any extensions given out as soon as he steps onto a big league field, but if they didn’t stop Singleton’s extension, they’d have a hard time preventing a team from giving Otani a much bigger paycheck fairly soon. The question is if that’s going to sway him. Kate’s article at LL talks about his spartan lifestyle and lifelong dream to play in MLB. Would making the league minimum for 3 years while, I don’t know, Marc Rzepczynski earned 10 times that eat at him?

Given these restrictions, what would the M’s best, uh, pitch to Otani be? Otani would presumably like to live somewhere nice, something Seattle could offer. He’d probably like an agreement in place about hitting/DHing, something the M’s could conceivably do, even with Nelson Cruz around for 2018. Finally, he may want to play for a contender; somewhere offering very good odds on reaching baseball’s biggest stage. That one’s going to be tougher for the M’s to compete on. Now, because of previous penalties, some of the biggest competitors for Otani’s services – the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros- are restricted from going above a measly $300,000 this year. If Otani wants to play for LA, and he wanted to out of high school, then he’ll either need to take $300,000 as a signing bonus (as opposed to ~$10,000,000 from another team) or LA’s lawyers will need to get pretty creative. The Yankees and Dodgers simply can’t outspend everyone, and the M’s still have their bonus pool money, but it still may be a tough sell. This is one side of the GM job that’s so hard for outsiders to evaluate, but is so critical: how good is a GM at getting what he/she wants? I think Jerry Dipoto can present a very good case that his organization has historical links to Japanese baseball icons, that it works hard to take care of those players, and knows the NPB well. I’m not sure that they’ve done as much as some other teams to strengthen those ties, and I hope that doesn’t hurt them here.

John Trupin’s article at LL notes that Dipoto mentioned that he was scouting some *other* pitchers on the Nippon Ham Fighters, which sounds like a ridiculous statement, but might be key to the M’s pitch. I wonder if the idea isn’t to sign 2 or even 3 players at once. Otani could take a buddy to MLB, and the M’s would get still more pitching depth. If you want to get sneaky, you could envision a scenario in which the M’s worked out another deal where the over-25 pitcher would get an inflated deal and essentially give some of it to Otani. This practice happened a lot in the days before the international bonus pools came into effect, with extra money going to trainers or even international scouting directors. MLB investigated these, so they’ve got experience in policing this, so it’d be insane for a team to try and get away with it. Still, the idea of taking on a teammate might help the M’s separate themselves from the mass of teams offering literally everything they’re allowed to offer. So, if the M’s want to be in this fight, and they do, they should maximize their chance by presenting themselves as NPB friendly as possible. Iwakuma’s contract includes things like first-class plane tickets to Japan 8 times a year or whatever, so they could include those, and perhaps provide housing in Seattle’s insane market. They can sign at least one more NPB player, preferably a teammate, and they can commit to playing him at least part time at DH. I still think the two LA teams, Texas, Boston and maybe the Cubs have a better shot, but the M’s aren’t almost certainly out of the running the way they were with Darvish and Tanaka.

Right, right, there’s a game on soon. The M’s again face Martin Perez, the one-time prospect darling turned fairly steady #3-4 starter. His K rate never really improved, and it’s just difficult to be a contact manager in Texas on a consistent basis, so while he had a decent ERA last year, he’s now *over*rated by FIP, as his ERA’s closer to 5. Mike Leake’s had two very encouraging starts in Seattle, and he got very close to 94 MPH at times in his last start. That’s higher than his peak velo in his first start for the M’s, which itself had a higher peak than any of his recent starts with St. Louis. This is a good trend.

1: Segura, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Gamel, LF
SP: Leake

With the lefty on the mound again, Danny Valencia gets the start at 1B, and Gamel moves to the 9 spot. Let’s hope Gamel’s recent power surge continued; he homered off of a lefty on Friday, in Leake’s last start.


One Response to “Game 146, Mariners at Rangers – Shohei Otani”

  1. Notfromboise on September 13th, 2017 8:16 pm

    The year of Zunino keeps gaining steam. For heavens sake, Zunino has the 2nd highest .SLG on the team and the 3rd highest .OPS. This is bordering on insanity. #belikemike

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