LOS ANGELES — The most fascinating story of the MLB offseason will be the pursuit of Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, and the Dodgers will definitely be in the mix.
“It’s a situation we’re monitoring closely, but it’s premature to talk about right now, being that the formal process has not started,” Dodgers president of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said on Tuesday.
That formal process is close to getting finalized, with Major League Baseball and the NPB nearing an agreement on a posting system to bring Ohtani over to the United States, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post: The tentative agreement would grandfather in the old posting system for one more year, per Sherman:
Under the agreement, which expired Oct. 31, any MLB team interested in a posted Japanese player could offer up to $20 million for the right to negotiate with that player, and every team that reached the same maximum bid would be allowed to bargain with the player, with only the team that signed the player transferring the sum bid to the Japanese club.
While the Nippon Ham Fighters would receive a $20 million posting fee from the major league team that signs Ohtani, the new collective bargaining agreement severely limits the signing bonus Ohtani could receive. Because he is just 23, Ohtani is two years away from being able to be a true free agent, able to sign a major league deal, which would be a high eight-figure contract.
Instead, Ohtani can’t sign a major league deal, and only gets a signing bonus, subject to international spending limits. The Dodgers are limited during this international signing period to no individual signing bonus higher than $300,000.
While the team bonus pools range from $4.75 million to $5.75 million, the bulk of free agents signed in July, with this international bonus period running from July 2, 2017 to June 15, 2018.
With several international amateurs already signed, the most any one team can offer Ohtani is $3.535 million, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:
The Rangers can agree to a maximum $3,535,000 signing bonus from their pool that covers July 2 through next June 15, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball and obtained by The Associated Press. New York can pay $3.25 million and the Twins $3,245,000.
Just three other teams can give him a seven-figure signing bonus: Pittsburgh ($2,266,750), Miami ($1.74 million) and Seattle ($1,570,500).
After that comes Philadelphia ($900,000), Milwaukee ($765,000), Arizona ($731,250), Baltimore ($660,000), Boston ($462,000) and Tampa Bay ($440,500).
The Dodgers are one of 12 teams limited to $300,000, per the AP, and five teams are even more constrained because of players already signed.
Far be it for you or me to say that $3.2 million — the difference between what the Dodgers and Rangers can offer as a bonus — is a pittance, but in terms of Ohtani and his potential earning power, it really is. He’ll be able to earn big money at some point once he comes to MLB. His initial signing bonus will be a small percentage of his career earnings, so it could come down to where Ohtani truly wants to play, or where he might get the opportunity to both pitch and hit.
Ohtani is unique in that he excels as a two-way player, arguably the best pitcher and the best hitter in the NPB. He hit .332/.403/.540 with eight home runs and 16 doubles in 65 games this season, and had a 3.20 ERA in five starts with 29 strikeouts in 25 innings, in a season shortened by an ankle injury that required surgery in October.
Ohtani hit .332/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 2016, and had a 1.86 ERA in 21 games on the mound, including 20 starts, with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.
Rick Ankiel is probably the best example of a player exceeding both as a pitcher and position player, posting a 134 ERA+ in 30 starts at age 20, and hitting 25 home runs with a 120 OPS+ at age 28. But Ankiel first flamed out as a pitcher before he turned to hitting full time. Someone like Ohtani is trying to do both at the same time, which hasn’t really happened in decades.
The Dodgers scouted Ohtani in August, with Friedman and broadcaster Orel Hershiser among the group on the trip to Japan.
“We definitely think it’s doable for someone who is talented enough to do both. It takes being a little creative in trying to figure out a schedule and figure out recovery days. But we definitely think it is doable,” Friedman said. “If we were ever to sign a player who is talented enough to do both, we look forward to the challenge of being creative to figure that out.”