Rumor Mill: Shohei Ohtani

Major League Baseball today announced that their teams have ratified the new posting agreement between MLB and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The maximum release fee (or posting fee) remains $20 million and a player, once posted, has 21 days to reach an agreement with a Major League Baseball team.

With that done, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters announced today that Shohei Ohtani will be posted today. That means that Ohtani has until December 22nd to secure a Major League deal.

At 23 years old, Ohtani will enter the Majors subject to the international bonus pool system. Teams have various amounts of money in their pools and some are under restriction. For example, the Texas Rangers have $3.535 million in their pool, which is the most of any team at this point. The Cardinals are currently under penalty for exceeding their bonus pool last year and are only able to extend a signing bonus of $300,000.

But this decision appears to be about more than money for Ohtani.

Had Ohtani waited two more years, he would not have been subject to the international bonus pool system and would have been a free agent, able to sign a contract without any caps. Since it’s probably not about who can make him the highest dollar offer, there is really no excuse for every team in baseball to extend him an offer. 30 teams, 30 offers or fire your General Manager.

This past spring we talked about Luis Robert and the only other international prospect  that could be talked about in the same breath as him was Shohei Ohtani.

Despite being slowed by an ankle injury this season, Ohtani hit .332/.403/.540 with 8 home runs over 65 games as a hitter while posting a 3.20 ERA over 5 starts as a pitcher.

To get an idea of what he can do when healthy, in 2016 he hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 104 games as a hitter and had a 1.85 ERA in 21 games (20 starts, 1 relief appearance) as a pitcher.

While most believe his highest potential is as a pitcher, Ohtani wants to continue to play both ways. In my opinion, that’s why he’s coming now.

Consider that if Ohtani waits two years and signs the $200 million deal that many believe he could have scored had he waited, he is really making too much money for a team to get cute with. Think about how we all hold our breath every time Mike Matheny uses Carlos Martinez as a pinch runner. Now imagine if Martinez was playing the outfield a couple days a week.

By coming earlier, Ohtani costs the team less money and the potential lost value is not as high, which would allow him an opportunity to prove he can do it productively enough to be worth the risk.

But regardless of all of this it comes down to whether the Cardinals are or should be interested. Obviously, because I’m writing about this I think that they should. Mainly because the odds are good that he performs well enough to recapture the $20.3 million investment it would take to bring him in.

The Cardinals need both a starting pitcher and a hitter and Ohtani could help fill both needs by slotting into the rotation and then also playing the outfield a couple days a week.

The organization has also been showing evidence of thinking about how a two way player would work. I think back to the experiment with Jordan Schafer last spring while they considered using him both ways that ended when he got hurt. And bringing in Seung-hwan Oh to help him transition from the Japanese leagues to the United States.

The Cardinals missed on Luis Robert. The general sentiment seems that they will probably miss on Giancarlo Stanton. I feel like I’m just repeating myself at this point, but the opportunity to sign a player with the potential that Ohtani has does not come around that often.

There isn’t much of anything out there that specifically links Ohtani to the Cardinals. Not like there really would be since John Mozeliak runs a quiet ship and keeps his cards close to his sweater vest.

However, they have said that they expected to explore the starting pitching market “later” in the winter. Why would they wait to start laying groundwork with starting pitchers they might have interest in? Unless they weren’t interested in anyone that was available yet and were mulling the pursuit of Ohtani. And if they could sign Ohtani, that would offset the loss of some of their young arms that might be traded away this winter.

I’m positive that they’ll check in on him because that’s what the Cardinals do. If nothing else, they should extend him their maximum offer and see what happens. Worst case scenario they finish second.

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