Japanese superstar Shohei Otani is unlike any player in Major League Baseball. Could the Chicago Cubs make a run at him next winter in free agency?
Last winter, rumors swirled around Japanese standout Shohei Otani. In the end, he wound up re-signing with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan for 2017. As reigning World Series champs, the Chicago Cubs – with their large pocketbook – are a logical potential landing spot.
Right-handed ace and 2015 National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta could very well hit the open market next winter. This would leave a considerable hole in the Cubs’ rotation moving forward. Rumor has it Otani is tempted to test the waters of Major League Baseball in the near future.
Before we get into whether or not Chicago is truly a viable destination for such a player, it’s important to know what kind of talent Otani is.
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A two-way player in Japan
Just 22 years of age, Otani is already established as one of the best players in the NPB. What makes him one of the premier talents on the horizon is his ability to pitch and hit – incredibly well.
He’s already credited with the fastest pitch in NBP history at 102 mph. Last season, he broke out at the dish, too, hitting .322/.416/.588 in 382 plate appearances. He also smacked 22 homers, while driving in 67 runs, as well.
As if those numbers didn’t make him intriguing enough as a prospect, he also pitched to a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings of work on the mound. Otani averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine, winning at least 10 games for the third-straight season.
Now, one good season does not a superstar make. But when you take into account his age, Otani’s overall numbers from the last four years are nothing less than awe-inspiring.
- 2013-2016 Pitching: 39-13/2.49 ERA/1.066 WHIP/10.3 K/9
- 2013-2016 Hitting: .275/.347/.491 slash-line in 939 plate appearances
That slash-line would be above league-average in MLB for an everyday player, let alone a pitcher. For example, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta are widely regarded as above-average offensive players at their position. Neither of them hold a career average north of .190.
Get your wallets out, America
The last Japanese standout to come to Major League Baseball was Masahiro Tanaka, who received roughly $170 million between his contract and the posting fee the New York Yankees paid. As you heard in the video above, the numbers being thrown around with Otani are far greater: $200, maybe even $300 million in a deal.
Now, that may seem steep for a player who’s never played in the United States before.
But consider this.
He’s proven himself to be an above-average offensive player. Granted, the NPB is widely considered to be an easier league to hit in than in the bigs, but the numbers speak for themselves. So he could be a 23-year-old above-average outfielder (at least in terms of offense) on the hook for a ten-year deal.
Also take into account his obvious talent on the hill.
Otani is not one of – he is the best pitcher in Japan. He showed that in a fairly large sample size last season. Since his rookie campaign at the age of 18, he’s not posted an earned run average higher than 2.61. Most big league pitchers dream of numbers like that.
A fit for the North Siders
So, now that you know who Shohei Otani is, we can circle back to the Chicago Cubs.
Past 2017, really the only sure things in that rotation are Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Lester will be heading into this age-34 season with plenty of wear and tear on his left arm. Hendricks, meanwhile, will be inching closer to free agency.
Should Arrieta walk at the end of 2017, Chicago needs to fortify its starting staff in a big way. Under-the-radar signings like Brett Anderson aren’t going to fly – especially if the team makes another deep postseason run.
Adding an elite pitcher like Otani could help keep Chicago atop the National League Central for years to come. But it will surely come at a cost. $300 million is Kris Bryant extension type of money. It shouldn’t be taken lightly – and you can bet that Theo Epstein doesn’t throw money around like that.
In the end, it’s hard to imagine Chicago, a team with countless future payroll obligations thanks to its young core, throwing this much money at an unproven, albeit incredibly talented, player. But still, if we’ve learned nothing, you can’t put anything past Epstein and the Chicago Cubs front office.