Shohei Otani, the man known as the Japanese Babe Ruth, is without a doubt the most intriguing free agent of the Major League Baseball offseason. He can throw 100 mph, hit homers and is willing to leave millions of dollars on the table to prove himself in the United States.
We’ve seen the courtship of Japanese stars get wild in the past, but the Otani sweepstakes looks to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. What makes Otani, 23, different — aside from his two-way talent — is that he falls under MLB’s international bonus pool restrictions because he’s not over the age of 25. That means there’s a cap on how much teams can throw at Otani, and it’s much, much less than he’d get on the open market.
If Otani were to wait until he turned 25, his MLB contract would easily be nine figures. Instead, he wants to prove himself at 23, so teams have to treat him the same way they would a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic. He’ll get a signing bonus and the same standard contract any MLB draft pick or international free agent would.
That signing-bonus money is capped, so the Associated Press figured out which teams have the most to offer Otani. Turns out, it’s the Texas Rangers, the same team that brought Yu Darvish to the U.S. They have about $3.5 million left in their international coffers. The New York Yankees are in second place by a couple thousand dollars.
You might be surprised to see only six teams can even offer Otani more than a $1 million bonus based on what’s left of their international money for this year. By comparison, Masahiro Tanaka got a seven-year deal worth $155 million when he came from Japan. Yu Darvish got $60 million over six years. Here’s the rest of the list and the maximum they can offer Otani:
Texas Rangers — $3,535,000
New York Yankees — $3,250,000
Minnesota Twins — $3,245,000
Pittsburgh Pirates — $2,266,750
Miami Marlins — $1,740,000
Seattle Mariners — $1,570,500
Philadelphia Phillies — $900,000
Milwaukee Brewers — $765,000
Arizona Diamondbacks — $731,250
Baltimore Orioles — $660,000
Boston Red Sox — $462,000
Tampa Bay Rays — $440,500
Atlanta Braves – $300,000
Chicago Cubs – $300,000
Chicago White Sox – $300,000
Cincinnati Reds – $300,000
Houston Astros – $300,000
Kansas City Royals – $300,000
Los Angeles Dodgers – $300,000
Oakland Athletics – $300,000
St. Louis Cardinals – $300,000
San Diego Padres – $300,000
San Francisco Giants – $300,000
Washington Nationals – $300,000
Detroit Tigers — $159,500
Los Angeles Angels — $150,000
New York Mets — $150,000
Toronto Blue Jays — $50,000
Cleveland Indians — $10,000
Colorado Rockies — $10,000
There’s a big catch in all this: It’s clearly not about the money. If Otani is willing to leave $100 million on the table to come to MLB, do you really think he’s worried about a few hundred thousand? Especially if it’s the difference between the team he wants to play for and a team he could care less about.
That’s what makes Otani’s free agency so intriguing — it’s hardly about the money.
We don’t know yet what Otani even wants. Does he covet a certain team or city? Does he want big-time media attention like he’d get in New York? Does he want someplace that’s not that, like Minnesota? Does he love L.A.? Or does he want a team that will let him pitch and hit? We’ll find out soon enough.
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