Shohei Otani is a name that popped up yesterday on MLB Trade Rumors via Alex Speier of WEEI.com and Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. The list of MLB suitors includes the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Orioles. Fraley reports via sources in Japan that the Rangers have already sent a team of organization representatives to meet with the 18 year old pitcher and his parents overseas. Texas is looking to leverage their experience with Yu Darvish as a selling point to the young Otani.
The high school right hander already boasts a fastball that can top out at 99-100 mph and weighs in at 190 pounds on a 6’4” frame. Since he is still in school and has not signed with a Japanese pro league team, Otani would not have to go through the bidding process that results in extra expenses for MLB teams on top of the player’s salary.
Last offseason, fellow Japanese pitcher Darvish had much of the spotlight in the market. There were a few rumors that Theo Epstein and the Cubs were interested, but through the process it became clear that paying big money for a starting pitcher on a Cubs team that needed to be rebuilt from the ground up would not be a match. In the end, it was the back to back runner up Rangers that signed the next Japanese sensation.
So what would be so different this time around you ask? Epstein has already commented that the Cubs are in for similar results on the field on 2013 as Cubs fans had to bear with in 2012. Despite the fact that the Cubs front office has admitted there is money to spend this off season, and that an unproven young pitcher at the pro level does not figure to command the multi millions that Darvish negotiated for, the Cubs would not be a good fit no?
For starters, the Cubs need just that, starting pitching. Despite Epstein’s love for rotation depth, the Cubs starting staff was already bogged down money wise in Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. As the front office prepares for 2013 and beyond, Matt Garza is the only remaining starter that figures to get double digit millions. The pay raise for Garza figures to be a lock through the arbitration process or if he is signed to an multi year extension. After him it is break out starter Jeff Samardzija and then question marks that fill out the rest of the Cubs rotation. Travis Wood and some of the rookies seen towards the end of the season figure to be considered next Spring, but it remains to be seen what starting pitching prospects from the previous regime that Epstein and Company believe are truly worthy of being on the track to Wrigley Field in the near future.
While the teenaged Otani does not figure to be a savior and plugged into the rotation right away, he would represent an up and coming arm that the Cubs front office is looking to stock their farm system with. In addition, with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limiting the spending money the Cubs have on draft picks, being able to sign an 18 year old pitcher outside of that structure would be a bonus. It would basically be the same approach the Cubs have had with their recent Cuban signings.
All this discussion becomes moot if Otani chooses to start his pro career in Japan, something that most Japanese players seem to do as a result of cultural and national pressure. But if it takes money and a fast track to the Majors that lures away this pitcher from his homeland, the Cubs would figure to be a match. Again, it would not take a Darvish like contract do to so, and depending on what the other teams may be offering, a deal structure much like the one Samardzija received to choose baseball over life as a receiver in the NFL may be all it takes to lock up Otani in Cubbie blue pinstripes.
The bottom line is there is a match between Otani and the Cubs, and his name is one the Cubs fans should at least keep in the back of their minds this off season.