Yesterday, the Brewers officially announced that they had hired Mike Groopman of the Kansas City Royals to be their director of international scouting. Groopman had helped lead the Royals analytics department for the past 10 years, and will bring that expertise to the Brewers system now. Adam McCalvy of Brewers.com notes that one of the players he will be monitoring is Shohei Otani, the dual pitcher/hitter who is looking to come to MLB starting in 2018.
The fact that the Brewers are interested in Shohei Otani is not a big surprise. It’s hard to find a team at this point that is not interested in him at some level. Otani would be a major addition to the team if the Brewers could manage to make a deal work. However, if the Brewers want to acquire Otani, several hurdles have to be cleared first.
The first hurdle is that a deal needs to be worked out between Nippon Professional Baseball and MLB. The previous deal expired after the 2017 season, and with no deal currently in place, there is no system for Otani to come to MLB. If one is not agreed to soon, Otani will remain in Japan for the time being, since his current team, Nippon-Ham, still owns his rights. Otani would have to wait for his service time with Nippon-Ham to run out before he could come to MLB.
If a deal is worked out, teams would then have to post bids for him. Under the previous agreement, a team could post up to $20 million for the right to negotiate with Otani. Considering how strong of a player he is, at least a few teams will post the maximum for him. The Brewers could choose to pay the maximum $20 million posting fee for Otani, as well. Even if they do, there’s still a few more hurdles to clear.
Teams who try to sign Otani would be limited to however much money is left in their international signing bonus pool. Adam McCalvy notes that for the Brewers, that amount would be under $800,000 due to the high volume of players they have agreed to contracts with since the current international signing period began this past July 2nd. (The Brewers do have the ability (as does every team) to add to their bonus pool through trades, which they have already done once this period when they dealt Aaron Myers to Baltimore.) Other teams have over $1 million to spend, and the top team, the Rangers, have around $3.5 million remaining in their bonus pool. As things stand now, those teams would be easily able to outbid the Brewers in terms of a signing bonus, and MLB has already made it clear that teams will not be able to circumvent this with promises of a later contract or other compensation. McCalvy also notes that Otani could also work for his own supplemental compensation through endorsements, which would be another factor in favor of a bigger market. That further complicates the situation for the Brewers.
Of course, Otani has made it clear that money is not the focus for him. If it was, he could easily wait two more years, get around the posting system, and sign a regular free agent contract with a MLB team. That means the Brewers could convince Otani to come to Milwaukee if they promise to let him be a starting pitcher and a hitter on his off days. The Brewers do have a good relationship with Otani’s agency, CAA Sports, as well. His lead agent, Nez Balelo, also represents Ryan Braun. It’s not much, but there are ways the Brewers could make something work with Otani.
The whole situation will be something to monitor as the offseason continues. Otani is currently rehabbing following ankle surgery in Japan, which teams will be very interested in watching progress. MLB and NPB will continue working towards a new agreement for a new posting system, and if that comes together, the bidding for Otani will begin. For now, we will just have to watch how this all plays out.