Shohei Ohtani just signed with the Angels, and according to a report from ESPN, there’s a good chance they will be subjected to an investigation by Major League Baseball.
Buster Olney wrote today, just a few hours before Ohtani’s signing was announced, that “a number of MLB officials said they wouldn’t be surprised if it spawned an immediate investigation into how the process played out.” From the report:
Commissioner Rob Manfred and other MLB officials have been giving the Ohtani case extraordinary scrutiny, with repeated warnings of bans and penalties for anyone found in violation.
Various team officials expect a layers-deep review of the result wherever he lands.
Given recent events, it’s reasonable to conclude that Manfred isn’t just bluffing here. John Coppolella was just banned from baseball for skirting the international signing rules, and that led to the Braves having to surrender prized prospect Kevin Maitan (who is now, also, an Angel). The Red Sox were also recently slapped with penalties for bundling international bonuses amongst players. Ohtani is the most highly coveted free agent in baseball, and so Manfred and MLB are probably right to believe this is a situation ripe for cheating.
And yet the fact that there is even the possibility of cheating is Manfred’s own doing. The system for signing international players is just a mechanism by which to keep players from being fairly compensated. This left a $200 million player like Ohtani to pick between teams that could only pay him a few million dollars, and thus opened the door for the Angels, or any other team, to find a way to grease the wheels. It’s not at all dissimilar to how the NCAA’s amateurism scam turns recruiting into a game run by bag men. Here’s what MLB reportedly fears could have gone down:
Teams were told, again, that they could attempt to persuade Ohtani to join based on the merits of their respective organizations and their cities, but they were warned against discussing future contracts and business relationships, and against third-party machinations — paying off someone who might have influence with Ohtani, for example, or making quid-pro-quo promises outside of the rules.
What’s concerning, and annoying, is that if an investigation does turn up something than ran afoul of the rules, the Angels could be forced give up Ohtani, thus starting the process up all over again and screwing over Ohtani even further.
A team executive told Olney: “The commissioner’s attention on this has been unprecedented. There’s a lot of avenues for cheating, and I think [MLB is] well-aware of that.”
Good system. Great system. Here’s hoping the Angels followed MLB’s wild and arbitrary restrictions against a great baseball player earning a salary equal to his abilities.