After a thigh injury kept him from pitching for most of July and August, Japanese two-way playing phenom Shohei Otani made his first start in seven weeks today. Half of MLB’s front offices sent someone to Japan to watch him:
Otani looked very much like a pitcher returning from injury, as recounted by the Kyodo News—better than he had in a minor-league rehab outing a few weeks ago, but still not quite himself. After three scoreless innings, he faltered in the fourth, giving up a three-run home run and getting pulled after struggling with his command through 62 pitches. (His velocity, however, was back to normal; he touched 100 mph.)
While that thigh injury kept Otani off the mound for a few weeks, it didn’t keep him from playing—since pitching makes up only half of his game. The two-way star has kept hitting and has a .342/.402/.548 line this year in 164 plate appearances.
The interest from MLB teams today is only the latest wave of indicators that the 23-year-old will be making a move stateside after this season, even though the new collective bargaining agreement will make it tougher for him to get paid. Under the CBA that went into effect this season, foreign players under 25 are subject to international bonus signing rules—meaning that the best-case scenario for any player is a minor-league deal with a signing bonus of a little under $10 million, only possible from a team that has its maximum international spending allotment available. But most teams don’t have that maximum allotment available, and a few are handicapped pretty severely by penalties after overspending last year or the year before. (Several teams that viewed Otani today—including the Dodgers, Cubs and Padres—won’t be able to spend more than $300,000 on international players this year, as noted by Baseball America.)
Any team that signs Otani will pay not just his bonus, but also the posting fee required by his Japanese team, which will probably be the maximum figure of $20 million. But Otani—who has indicated that he wants to at least try to continue his two-way game in MLB—could be worth far more than that for either half of his game, let alone both.