It seems like such a great fit. And, in a perfect world, it is. The Cubs need young impact arms and Shohei Otani is an 18 year old RHP who reportedly reaches 99 mph. He was to enter the NPB draft but has apparently made the historic decision to pass that up and instead sign with an MLB team.
That team probably won't be the Cubs. It's not that they wouldn't want that kind of arm in their system. It's a simple case of mathematics. The Cubs have spent $1.5M on Juan Carlos Paniagua and $700,000 on SS Frandy De La Rosa. That is $2.2M worth of cap space that we know has been spent. At best it leaves the Cubs with $700,000 left.
The Rangers who have reportedly scouted Otani heavily, have over $2M, as do the Baltimore Orioles. The Los Angeles Dodgers have also shown a lot of interest and even they can easily beat the Cubs offer. They have $1.7M.
Not only can't the Cubs outbid the other teams, but the Rangers have established more of a presence thus far in Japan. They have the successful transition of Yu Darvish that they can point to as well as a track record of developing international amateurs in general.
The only way the Cubs could beat this is to go way over their cap and incur the penalties, which would effectively wipe out the 2013 international pool money they've picked up as a result of having the 2nd worst record in baseball last year. By next July, the Cubs will have more money to spend than any team but the Astros.
The only way you pass up the opportunity to load up next season is if Otani is a once in a lifetime talent. Let's say you do spend $3M and steal him from a team like the Rangers or Dodgers, that means your pool goes down to $250K next season. That's over $4M you lose to sign on a player next year. It amounts to a $7M+ investment without counting the 100% fines for the overage. For that money, he better be a lot more polished and MLB ready. The more I hear, the more I don't believe that is the case. We've heard about his velocity but there appears to be nothing special about his secondaries or his command. While he undoubtedly has raw talent and a high ceiling, the risk is probably too great for the Cubs to put all their eggs in Otani's basket.
According to Jim Callis of Baseball America, that may be different for other teams. Teams closer to the bottom, such as Texas, Boston, and Los Angeles may be more willing to pay that price, since they'll never get a shot at the top talent anyway. So even if the Cubs were willing to pay that penalty, the likelihood is that other teams would have even less fear in doing so. It's an arms race in which they cannot afford to participate because the cost to them is so much higher.
What Otani's decision means, however, is that perhaps more and more Japanese amateurs will take this route. Somebody had to be the first to test the waters and Otani has done that. With the Cubs expected to have money to spend next year and probably the year after, they could soon get their shot at landing the next rising star from Japan. It just doesn't look like it will happen this year.
Filed under: International players