ORLANDO, Fla. — Right guy, right time.
In the past, when MLB teams imported starting pitchers from Japan, the expectation was the player was coming here and had to conform to fit the American style of play — notably adapt from starting once a week and perhaps 25 times in a regular season to being a 30-plus start pitcher.
The expectation among many club officials is that this model will be upended for Shohei Otani because he has all the leverage in what will be one of the most unique negotiations ever. But also because MLB clubs are rethinking how they allocate starts to best maximize rest, recovery and performance anyway.
“If you are signing Otani you are going to a six-man rotation,” said the GM of one interested team. “You are adapting to him and what he needs to be successful.”
For Otani to be allowed to come to MLB, the Players Association still is going to have to give its approval to grandfather in the now-expired posting system, whereby the righty’s Japanese team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, would receive a $20 million posting fee from whichever team ultimately signs Otani. It is expected that some agreement will be reached and Otani will ultimately come this offseason.
However, under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement — because the 23-year-old is under 25 — he is subject to the international spending caps, which means Otani can just receive between $300,000 and $3.5 million as a bonus. Thus, without mega-dollars available, this becomes more about teams recruiting Otani with other items, notably what would make him most comfortable. And Otani already has indicated he would like to continue doing what he did in Japan, where he both hit and pitched.
That would be easier if he followed his familiar pattern of starting roughly once a week and being in a lineup say two or three times between starts. As opposed to, say, Masahiro Tanaka, who started as many 28 games in Japan and twice exceeded 200 innings, Otani has never made more than 24 starts or pitched more than 160 ²/₃ innings.
“The surplus value of this player is so great because he is going to be paid such a fraction of what he is actually worth that essentially he can do whatever he wants and it would still be a huge benefit [for an MLB] team,” said another executive from an interested club.
And yet another executive from an interested team — and, really, all 30 teams are interested and probably half are going to try their hardest to have an…