According to multiple Japanese reports, there is an increasingly large chance that Shohei Otani will be posted this coming offseason. The two-way superstar seems ready to bring his talents to the United States. If you don’t know who Otani is, he has been referred to by many as the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, and you can familiarize yourself by reading this piece by our own Tanya Bondurant from last year.
When it comes to offseason excitement, the general consensus has been that this year’s free agent class is relatively vanilla compared to the star-studded one that will follow the 2018 season. Think about how the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be set to hit the open market. If Otani is in fact posted this year, however, we may be in for the most intriguing bidding war that baseball has ever seen.
The 2017 season has proved that the Yankees are trending upward, and that the young talent they possess is for real. Signing Otani, however, may be the big splash they need to take the next step towards greatness. There are several different reasons why the Yankees should make a play for him.
Heading into this season, two of the biggest question marks for the Yankees were starting pitching depth, and left-handed power. Brian Cashman addressed the former by adding Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline. The answer to the latter, at least during spring training, seemed to be Greg Bird.
If the Yankees stayed put, the starting rotation in 2018 would consist of Luis Severino, Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and Masahiro Tanaka, assuming he doesn’t opt out of his contract. Michael Pineda likely won’t come back and neither Luis Cessa nor Bryan Mitchell seem to be the answer.
The Yankees will need to add a starting pitcher and preferably one that will be around for a long time. Otani is only 23 years old and would come with team control. His upper 90’s fastball and array of off-speed pitches would certainly be a welcomed addition.
While it has been encouraging to watch Bird have some success in his return from the disabled list, he is still shaking off rust. It remains to be seen if he can live up the spring training hype. Regardless, left-handed power has been hard to come by for the Yankees.
Didi Gregorius has had a phenomenal year, especially when considering he missed a month and he leads Yankees left-handed hitters with 24 home runs. Brett Gardner can’t be expected to maintain 20 homer power and Jacoby Ellsbury is well, Jacoby Ellsbury. Otani has light-tower power, literally, and Joe Girardi has already said that he thinks a player could potentially pitch and DH. With Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier coming off the books, there will be plenty of at-bats available.
The more you look at what Otani brings to the table, the more it seems like he is the perfect fit for the Yankees. Year after year it has felt like the Bombers are one big arm or one big bat away from being great. Otani could be that X-factor that fills both needs.
When considering the factors that come in to play when pursuing big-name international free agents, the Yankees bring a lot to the table. Obviously, playing in New York has always been attractive to free agents both international and domestic. Given the storied history of the Yankees, the market has never been the problem. Take into consideration that Otani does want to remain a two-way player, and it makes American League teams more and more attractive to him.
The Yankees also have two people within the organization that could be hugely beneficial in Otani’s transition to Major League Baseball. One being Tanaka, and the other former world champion slugger and current special advisor Hideki Matsui. The combination almost seems too perfect as Otani looks to be a blend of the two with a ceiling potentially higher than both.
Since Otani is only 23 years old, he would be sacrificing hundreds of millions of dollars by signing this offseason. That’s opposed to waiting until he’s 25 when he would have no limits on his negotiation. The most he could make this offseason is $10.1 million.
He has made it clear that his desire to become a Major League Baseball player is much larger than his craving for a bigger payday. This is good and bad news. It means that while he will come at a much lower price, but also that many more teams will be in play. This is why being an ideal fit becomes much more important.
There have been talks that leveraging promises of an early extension could be what tips the scales in this upcoming negotiation process. Luckily, the Yankees will have plenty of money to work with after this season when CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will no longer be on the payroll. Furthermore, saving money on Otani now will allow the Yankees to spend more in the 2018 offseason, making the possibility of a super-team that more realistic.
Cashman has already flown to Japan to scout Otani, confirming that the Yankees will in fact be in the running. There will be obstacles of course. The Bombers have a crowded outfield, potentially leading to a designated hitter logjam. There are also homegrown options to plug the rotation. That said, Otani makes too much sense to let walk. If he’s posted, the Yankees should do whatever it takes to land this potential superstar.