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Shohei Otani: The Next Big Japanese Star MLB Teams Want; But May Have to Wait On


November 11, 2016

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He’s being called the modern day Babe Ruth from the Japanese league because of the rare ability to hit and pitch; an ability that might make Shohei Otani an extremely rich man soon.

The 22-year-old pitcher and hitter, whose spent the last four seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters team in Japan, has the baseball world on buzz for the possibility that he will be the next big star to come over to the United States and potentially help a future team win in the major leagues.

A few years ago, it was Yu Darvish that was the pitcher teams were chasing and eventually, it was the Texas Rangers who won the bidding for the right-handed ace. In the winter of 2013 and into 2014, it was Masahiro Tanaka, who went on to sign with the New York Yankees. Fast forward to 2016, and it’s Otani who is the next big thing captivating the baseball world from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Otani’s ability to throw 99 mph on his fastball into later innings with electric secondary pitches (curveball, cutter and splitter) are what may earn him a contract that could surpass every current starter in the major leagues. And to top it off, Otani can also hit for average and power; he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI in 104 games this past season.

Now you get why some are calling him the modern-day Babe Ruth now? And now you might get why the bidding for him could exceed $300 million as far as a deal goes. Yes, $300 million, which is more money than Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and David Price are making, and one scout told Joel Sherman of the New York Post why he could get that:

“I actually think the guy might get a $300 million deal,” said a scout who has had multiple looks at the righty pitcher/lefty hitter. “That is how special a talent he is. He has power No. 1 starter stuff. He is throwing 99 [mph] in the eighth inning. His secondary stuff is unhittable. He is big and loose. His fastball is electric and his curve, cutter and split are all 70s [on the 20-80 scouting scale]. “And I think he is getting better as a hitter. I think an American hitting coach teaches him to turn on the ball more and he can be a 45-homer guy. He has Darryl Strawberry power. He is the face of a franchise. He is a big, handsome guy and when he plays baseball you cannot take your eyes off of him.”

Sounds so good and too good to be true. So what’s the catch?

He might not be available this winter for teams to put bids on, which is at $20 million just to win the rights to negotiate with Otani. Otani’s team will have to post him to the 30 major league teams and allow them the chance to make an offer, but reports have said that the 22-year-old may not get posted until next season, or at least next off-season when he’s in his fifth professional season with Nippon.

Some scouts have wondered if Otani will want to pursue being either a hitter or pitcher in the major leagues, as some could see the right hitting coach in MLB taking his 22 home runs and turning him into a 40 home run hitter in the United States. But then there are those who think pitching is his best bet; 39-13 and a 2.49 ERA in 77 career starts over the last four seasons and the contract numbers for pitchers well under 30 have been massive over the last couple of seasons, so a 23-year-old on the open market should exceed what both Darvish and Tanaka got in their respective deals.

Both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been scouting Otani since he was 18 and will surely be looking to convince his representatives that their team is the best place for them, as will many other teams who will want him and will have money to spend. Four years ago, Otani almost made the jump from Japan to MLB, but he stayed because Nippon told him he could pitch and hit; something he has proven to do well.

Could that ability sway him towards the National League? Or would a team with deep pockets like the Yankees or Red Sox allow him to pitch and serve as a DH for the remaining five days in the week?

Unless something drastic happens and things change, Major League Baseball will have to wait to see what Otani can bring to the game and cash in on what could potentially be a massive payday. And you can better believe, they will be waiting to hear that Otani is available and ready to make the jump.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com