The biggest player on the market this upcoming MLB offseason likely won’t be somebody who has ever played in a major league game.
Shohei Otani, a 23-year-old sensation from Japan who not only can throw a 102 mph fastball as a starter but also hit like an everyday power hitter, will essentially have his pick on what team to join should he decide to leave the Nippon Ham Fighters and come to America for the 2018 season, a move he is reportedly likely to make even though it will cost him over $100 million. And while the Seattle Mariners may not always have the edge in getting the hottest free agent each year, they just might in trying to secure Otani’s services.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has been in Japan this week with a Mariners contingent scouting Otani, and 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer told Brock and Salk on Wednesday (listen here) that with the playing field evened out thanks to MLB’s collective bargaining agreement limiting international player signings to $10 million, the Mariners’ longstanding connections to Japan puts them ahead of the curve.
“I think the Mariners have some advantages that other teams don’t have in that they obviously have a very long and very good relationship established with Japan and the reputation that they have had with Japanese players,” Drayer said.
With speculation rising that Otani will be in the big leagues next year, Bob, Groz and Tom dove deep into a conversation about his skill set and whether he would make sense as the Mariners’ No. 1 priority to acquire for 2018.
Dave Grosby said Otani’s arrival in the majors – and hopefully Seattle – could mean the MLB would have something that hasn’t been seen since Babe Ruth’s Red Sox days.
“It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a guy like this who if he plays in the American League he’d be a DH as well as a pitcher,” Grosby said. “There’s never been a guy like that – and the DH came in in ’73.”
That two-way ability as a pitcher and hitter would provide some insurance for whichever team signs him, as well, said Bob Stelton.
“The beauty in a player like this, assuming he can make the transition … (if he injures his arm) he can still be a really effective player for you,” Stelton said. “His value is not eliminated at that point. He can still go out there and hit 30 home runs for you, hit for average, hit for power.
“So he’s got value that very few have if his game is able to translate.”
But that’s where Tom Wassell remains skeptical. Though there have been success stories like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, Wassell said it’s hard to have a ton of confidence that Otani will be able to live up to the hype, especially since players that were huge stars in Japan like Hideki Irabu, Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsusaka couldn’t put together more than a few years of above-average performance in the majors.
“Big ‘we’ll see’ on that one,” Wassell said about Otani’s game translating in the MLB. “Ichiro and maybe Hideki Matsui are the only two hitters who have come from over there who have even approached being worth that kind of money. … (Regarding heavily hyped Japanese pitchers) in retrospect none of those guys were worth the money that was paid for them.”