Report: Dodgers Interested in Japanese High Schooler Shohei Otani

From MLB Trade Rumors earlier today

High school pitcher Shohei Otani, 18, is being courted by every NPB team and at least three Major League teams, reports WEEI.com’s Alex Speier.  The Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers have all sent representatives to Japan to meet with Otani, and Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News notes that the Orioles also have interest in the right-hander.

Despite his young age, Otani is already 6’4″ and 190 pounds and owns a fastball that has been clocked in the 99-100 mph range.  MLB teams wouldn’t have to pay a posting fee to sign Otani as he isn’t contracted to any Japanese pro team.

This is the first we’re hearing of this, but apparently some of the news is a few weeks old; according to  this article on JapanBall.com, Logan White met with Otani’s high school coach (though not the player himself) back on September 20. Per this report on Yakyubaka.com, Dodger scout Keiichi Kojima has been tracking Otani since he was a freshman, and White saw Otani pitch a “practice game” in March. Okay, I can’t help myself; I was just going to leave it at that because what follows is an absurd discussion to even have, but what the hell. Here’s the rest of the quote from the JapanBall story…

Flush with cash under new ownership led by Stan Kasten and fronted by former NBA star Magic Johnson, the Dodgers were the first in line to woo the teenager who White likened to the team’s Cy Young lefty Clayton Kershaw and rated as one of the best prospects in the world.

Right. So there’s that. Anyway, who is this kid? Well, here he is throwing 99 MPH in a high school game this past July, thanks to the wonderfully named “GiantRobot.com“:

As you can imagine from an 18-year-old high school kid from the Pacific Rim, there’s not a whole lot of actual scouting out there on him, and I’d be lying to you if I said that I’d heard of him before a few hours ago. Still, 18, touching triple digits. It’s enticing, to say the least.

But let’s clarify what this is and isn’t. This isn’t Daisuke Matsuzaka, who cost the Red Sox a $51.1m posting fee in 2006. This isn’t Yu Darvish, for whom the Rangers paid $51.7m last year. And he’s not Hiroki Kuroda or Takashi Saito, who came to the Dodgers with no posting fee at all. Per the rules of NBP, the major professional Japanese league, players are bound to their teams for nine years after being drafted. If they ask to play in the United States, a team may “post” them, accepting the largest blind bid from a MLB team in order to allow the player to move. In the cases of Kuroda & Saito, they had put in their nine years (or more) and didn’t come to the States until their 30s.

For Otani, it’s a little different. He’s not yet been drafted by NBP, so he’s not technically subject to the nine year rule. However, it’s excessively rare for a high school player to skip Japanese ball and go right to America. In fact, the only player I can find who has done that is Junichi Tazawa, who’s pitched in 46 games for Boston around Tommy John surgery since making his debut in 2009. (And, now that I look at it, he was outstanding this year, with a 45/5 K/BB in 44 innings.) But Tazawa’s case is unique as well, since he went undrafted by NBP out of high school and spent several seasons pitching for an unaffiliated team in Japan.

As far as I can tell, no Japanese player has ever done what Otani is suggesting, although Yusei Kikuchi went through the same process of meeting with MLB clubs before deciding to stay in Japan in 2009. Here’s where it gets sticky, however; the NBP draft is in about two weeks. Here’s a passage from a USA Today piece on Kikuchi three years ago:

Amateurs must declare for Japan’s Oct. 29 draft by Oct. 15. If Kikuchi wants to sign with a major league organization, he must convince all 12 Japanese teams not to draft him, otherwise he would face a three-year ban from Japan’s major leagues should he ever choose to return to his homeland.

Once again, the NBP draft is in late October, which means it’s about two weeks from now. If he’s drafted, MLB teams are out of luck. If he’s not, well, there’s almost no way that he wouldn’t be. And if he becomes the first high schooler to sign with an MLB team prior to that, the outcry in Japan could do such damage to the already tenuous relationship with MLB that that commissioner’s office might prefer that he just not sign here at all, as ESPN’s Keith Law alluded to.

Let’s say, for the moment, that Otani is able to come to America. This won’t be a Yasiel Puig situation, where teams outbid each other to throw millions at an international free agent. Part of the reason that Puig received so much is that he signed just before the deadline where the new CBA would take effect and limit international spending. For the 2012-13 period, which I believe runs through June 30, 2013, all teams have $2.9m to spend on international free agents. (Which is beyond stupid, but that’s a different conversation.) After that, each team will have a pool ranging from about $1.7m to $4.8m, based on winning percentage in the previous season. Teams can go over, but the penalties are strict.

Every team has signed international free agents already, so no one has the full $2.9m remaining. I can’t find up-to-date budget figures as to what everyone has left this year, but it almost doesn’t matter, because it’s such a small figure. So if Otani can come to America, it’s not going to be for a massive up-front payment like we’ve seen in the past.

So if it’s not just about money… well, perhaps that puts the Dodgers in a good position. With the team history of Hideo Nomo, Kuroda, Saito, and others, Los Angeles has a great history with Japanese players. Then again, that advantage isn’t what it once was, and the Dodgers don’t currently have any Japanese on the club. Texas has Darvish, a huge star there; in recent years the Yankees, Mariners, & Red Sox have all hosted Japanese superstars.

This very well could be much ado about nothing, since as Law notes, I tend to lean towards Otani not being allowed to come to America. Still, we’ve talked a lot around here about how awful the Dodger record was in international spending during the McCourt years, a concern which we’re seeing manifest itself at the major league level. Adding a player who appears to be a great talent – again, based off of the little knowledge we have, though the fact that the Dodgers have apparently been following him for years is encouraging – would certainly be, along with Puig, a great step in the right direction as far as living up to Stan Kasten’s claim that investing in the farm system is of paramount importance.

337 comments
lioneldubinskysr
lioneldubinskysr

if the Yankees don't make it to the World Series, look for them to bid on the kid.

richardstarr
richardstarr

I believe that what the Japanese pay is a pittance compared to what the signing bonus would likely be.

The 3 year ban is nothing compared to the potential gain in increased pay if he signed with a MLB team.

The insanity of paying a team millions to let him go and the player is given NOTHING for it is immoral,

especially if he is not under contract.  You would have the Japanese teams paying to get this kid for the

sole purpose of getting the transfer fee down the road.

 

As long as this kid is not represented by Scott Boras, I'd think he would be worth a gamble on.

They might be able to "draft" him against his will or some such, but I don't think that they can do that

if he does not "declare" to do so.  Now whether or not he could later somehow get signed by a major

league team is an interesting question.  Perhaps if he were to get a scholarship to a state side school

some of this wierdness could go away?

jimmysmusic
jimmysmusic

Tell you what, he'd look mighty fine in a Dodger blue uni. :)

Brian Myrow
Brian Myrow

I assume that we will sign him, wait until he's blowing away everybody at AAA, and then include him in a trade for Ryan Braun where we take on $500 million in bad Milwaukee contracts.

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

I'm bored. Here comes Tim Federowicz. This will not alleviate boredom.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Maximum baseball!

Bill Grabarkewitz
Bill Grabarkewitz

Just got home from rehearsal, and must say that that Tiger win, combined with the other two, took some of the sting out of the unpleasant events of the morning.

Real Tom
Real Tom

Question for you Mike. Logan talked about the money behind the Puig signing when he was at the BP event a few weeks ago. He was talking about how international players would have "showcases" where they would select teams and invite them to check out the player show off for a couple hours. He said that over the past few years, the Dodgers had no international presence, and weren't even invited to these anymore, since everyone knew they weren't willing to pay for these players. Logan seemed to be saying that the Puig signing was a big statement, as though now people would see that the Dodgers will spend. However, I couldn't figure out how that statement meant anything, now that the bidding wars are basically over. What am I missing?

ThtsaPaddlin
ThtsaPaddlin

Today was a rough day for my uncle, who's been a lifelong Reds fan and an A's fan for the last 2 decades that he's lived in Berkeley.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

Everyone here is missing the big news of the day. Kemp is at the MrPinkGinsengDrink party. Obviously he will go 40-40 next year.

Coffee Head
Coffee Head

Gnats will find a way to score 6 off Verlander

D
D

 @Brian Myrow I know you're joking, but they would never include this kid in a trade this early lol. Still, I hope we get him!

Frank J Lapidus
Frank J Lapidus

 @capnsparrow all that just from the Strasburg issue?  Sounds like bitter jealousy.   Either that, or there must be far more to the story than what was told there.

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @Real Tom Maybe he's referring to a statement to prospective international players like Otani. That we are serious about recruiting top talent. 

capnsparrow
capnsparrow

It kinda sounds like the whole story is fiction to me but why

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Breaking the record with Puig got massive publicity and got the kind of headlines that couldn't be bought. Any Agent with a big time player, Free Agent and otherwise has to take note if Logan, Ned, or Stan Kasten takes an interest. @EephusBlue @Real Tom

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

ONLY if he drinks enough ginseng. Need to up his intake.

Coffee Head
Coffee Head

 @EephusBlue Just the way it is, they'll win the WS.  Not even a debate anymore in my book.  Hell on earth must exist.

EephusBlue
EephusBlue moderator

 @IBBFTW  @EephusBlue  @Real yeah. Their agents probably want to get in good with the team. May not sign big bonuses but stand to make money in arb or extensions etc

Kewldood69
Kewldood69

@BooGiants You really shouldn't use a picture of your grandaughter as your default. It's misleading.

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Will never forget seeing Gibby's limp with my pops. Hershiser was a beast that year too. Watching them stomp on the Cubs and Cards in the last few years was sweet, but i am looking forward to some magic next year. @EephusBlue @Tony Fernandez @Micro Scrotumo

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

im not older than you eephus.

MSTI OG
MSTI OG

dammit im older than you guys.

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Kick back, turn on some good music, and zone out. @LakerDodger24 @EephusBlue @lafan4life78