Shohei Ohtani made his first pitching appearance in seven weeks, returning from a thigh injury. According to Ken Rosenthal the Cincinnati Reds were one of the teams in attendance.

Nearly half of the teams in baseball were there and realistically, every team is interested in his services. There’s an argument that Shohei Ohtani is both the best pitcher and hitter in Japan. From the ages of 19 to 21 he posted a 2.25 ERA in 456.0 innings in Japan to go with 148 walks and 549 strikeouts. He throws in the upper 90’s and routinely hits 100 – including doing so in only his second start of the 2017 season earlier this week.

In 2016 and 2017, at the plate, Shohei Ohtani has hit .328/.412/.576. In 546 plate appearances he’s hit 31 doubles, two triples and 27 home runs with 70 walks and 139 strikeouts. There’s a lot of power there and plenty of walks, but there’s plenty of swing-and-miss there, too. Of course, he’s also in his 22-year-old season (turned 23 in the middle of the year).

Now, if you remember, the Cincinnati Reds are in the penalty phase when it comes to signing international players. They are only allowed to spend $300,000 to sign a player on the international market to a non-Major League deal. Shohei Ohtani is not eligible to sign a Major League contract until after the 2019 season. He is, however, eligible to sign a minor league contract.

What that means is that if he wants to play Major League Baseball before the 2020 season he will have to agree to a minor league deal where his signing bonus would range between $300,000 (the max for teams in the penalty phase, such as the Reds) to just over $10M for a team that acquires every last ounce of allowed signing pool money that they are allowed to by the rules.

For Shohei Ohtani, he’d be leaving an incredible amount of money on the table to come to the United States early. Assuming he can remain healthy and productive in Japan, he would likely be looking at signing a Major League deal worth over $150M heading into the 2020 season. If he signs before then, he’ll get whatever signing bonus he can get, with a maximum of just over $10M, and then get league minimum (currently $535K) for two years, then arbitration for the next four years (I’m making the assumption here that he will be Super 2 eligible as there’s no way a team would send him to the minor leagues to avoid that). In the best case scenario he’d earn probably $65-75M in that time frame. And that is only if he remains completely healthy and insanely productive.

It’s been widely reported that he wants to play both ways. He wants to both pitch and hit, and realistically that probably favors an American League team because they’ve got the designated hitter position. It’s just a less demanding position on the field and would make it more likely that a team would be willing to risk letting him hit but not have to put him in the field to risk further injury. That would also likely keep him fresher as a pitcher.

The Cincinnati Reds probably have a very low shot to sign Shohei Ohtani for many reasons. They’re a small market, which means that despite his international appeal, the marketing aspect would be smaller for endorsements – and if he’s going to sign as a minor leaguer, that could be a place where he makes significantly more money in his first few seasons in the Majors. Then there is the lack of the ability to offer anywhere near the highest signing bonus among teams in baseball. Toss in that there’s also a lack of a designated hitter and there’s simply a lot of things working against him possibly choosing Cincinnati.

29 Responses

  1. Billy

    It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Reds could even be in the running for Otani. With so little investment in scouting Asia, it seems weird that they’d be spending time watching someone who they have to know is not an option for them, right???

    • MK

      They have increased that investment in Asia with the hiring of Ray Chang to establish an Asian scouting organization.

  2. Billy

    Would it be possible for a team with significant money in their international pool to sign Otani and then subsequently trade him to a team with limited pool money? Could a team sign him for $10M (plus posting fee, taxes, etc.) and then flip him to the Reds for some enormous haul (Senzel plus Greene plus more)? I’m assuming there are rules to prevent this from happening, right?

    • wes

      Doubt it- it could potentially happen but you got to think Otani wouldn’t sign unless he was atleast assured he get a chance to compete on team that signed him.

    • Doug Gray

      As far as I know, no rules say you couldn’t do that. But, given the absolute bargain you’re getting if he comes over early, no team would do that. He would EASILY be the best prospect alive right now. You aren’t trading that.

  3. Datdudejs

    What position does he play in Japan when he’s not pitching?

    • Bill

      The Japanese language doesn’t use letters from our alphabet, they use characters, typically Kanji. When you see Japanese names in English, you are seeing a phonetic approximation of the pronunciation which leads to some variations in English spelling.

  4. Cinvenfan

    Just got a second I remembered they got Chapman and thought “why not?. Then, I woke up.

  5. Brad

    1) I believe Redlegs should sign every superstar they can for 300k.

    2) When Lorenzon, Finnegan, Greene and Otani are on the same pitching staff, can cut bench down by a player or two, add an extra reliever or two, and using pitchers as pinch hitters.

    • MK

      Finnegan has 6 hits in 65 ,097) at bats not sure most teams would not wish for him to pinch hit against them.

  6. rhayex

    I wonder if it would be legal to offer him a 300k bonus, then have it written in the contract that he hits free agency rather than arbitration after his first three years? That might be an incentive for him to sign with a team that can’t offer him the 10 million.

    I originally had the thought that a team could do it for *one* year, but I doubt that’s enough of an incentive for most teams to try to sign him. I don’t know what’s allowed in contracts, but even something like signing him for one year as a bonus then allowing him to opt in to arbitration early (after his first season) could be worthwhile (although I highly doubt that’s legal).

    • Billy

      I know that there’s some kind of language in the rules that prevent a team from offering any type of promised future financial incentive. That should prevent what you are suggesting.

      The only scenario I can come up with in which the Reds could be players is a CRAZY unlikely one. I’m not sure if the Red Sox are in the penalty or not, but assume they aren’t. Suppose the Red Sox are only willing to pay $30 Million for Otani, and they’re not close to being the high bidder. At the same time, the Red Sox have a crazy high valuation on Greene and Senzel. Let’s say they value the two of them at $120 Million. For whatever reason, the Reds aren’t convinced that Greene and Senzel are going to become stars, so internally, they value them ridiculously low at $30 Million. They really like Otani though, and would be willing to pay $80 Million to get him, which would be enough to be the top bid. In this case, the Red Sox place an $80 Million bid on Otani and sign him. Then they immediately trade him to the Reds for Senzel and Greene. They’ve paid $80 Million for what they see as $120 Million worth of talent. Meanwhile, the Reds give up what they see as $30 Million worth of talent and get what they think is an $80 Million talent in return. Everyone wins (until we see which of the two front offices is correct about Otani, Senzel, and Greene’s actual value and which of them really needs to be in another line of work). It takes some pretty mismatch in expectations to make something like that work though.

      • Colorado Red

        Senzel and Greene are STUDs.
        Greene may be better.
        I think there may be a time frame before a plalyer like this can be traded.
        For example (best I know), this year draft picks cannot be traded till after the WS.

      • Doug Gray

        Billy – did you read the article? The most anyone can pay him is just over $10M.

      • Billy

        Doug, I think I got a little confused is all. I know the max he could be offered now is about $10M. I was just assuming that he wouldn’t act on that and would wait until he was 25. Of course, by then, the Reds would be out of the penalty box and could just sign him directly if they so chose, so even this scenario makes no sense.

      • Doug Gray

        Well, if he waits, there’s no penalty box even if it were to exist because he wouldn’t be subject to those rules. But, he’s worth far more than that if he waits and remains healthy.

    • Colorado Red

      How about 300K signing bonus
      and 4.5 million per year (minors or majors) for 3 years.

      (Probably rule against it), but worth a try

      • Doug Gray

        You can’t do that. He literally has to sign for a signing bonus, then go through rookie wage scale and arbitration like anyone else would.

    • Doug Gray

      No, that is not legal. The contract must be a “normal” minor league contract with no promises that aren’t considered “normal”.

  7. Trey

    Could the Reds sign him for $300k with the understanding he would be on the big league roster in 2017? Then negotiate a 7-8 year deal that buys out arbitration and a year or two of free agency? The could offer him enough in that deal to offset any bonus money upfront.

    • Doug Gray

      Well, he’s not coming over today, so 2017 is out of the question. But, it does seem like it would be out of the question to extend him immediately without facing some penalty. But, from reading the rules, the penalties for this kind of guy may be worth just taking.

      • Trey

        Thank you Doug. I meant 2018. Be interesting to see if we have any things up our sleeves. Although don’t want to do anything to get us penalized like Boston.

  8. Hingle McCringleberry

    Will never happen. Reds are better off signing 3 top tier lefty relief pitchers. Contrary to what price and the whole upper echelon in management feels, situational percentages still matter.