Texas Rangers rumors: Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese League sensation who is a pitcher and DH for the Nippon Ham-Fighters, has thrown two recent bullpen sessions, according to a new piece from Jon Morosi. Injuries have limited his pitching this season, and Morosi says there is “no timetable for him to return to the mound,” though he is back in the lineup for the Ham-Fighters at DH.
This is relevant for the Texas Rangers because they have been scouting Ohtani for almost a decade, and were, per Ohtani (as cited in the Morosi piece), one of the teams that showed the most interest in him when he was considering coming to the United States when he was 18. Now 23, Ohtani is subject to the new restrictions on international free agent signings under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and thus would not be able to receive a bonus bigger than whatever money a team has available under its “hard cap.” For the Rangers, who have acquired some international bonus pool money (but who have also spent money on bonuses for J-2 players this year), that would likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million. Theoretically, a team could have up to $9 million or so to spend, if they were already entitled to the maximum $5.75 million pool amount, traded for the maximum they were eligible to trade for (up to 75% of the original pool), and signed no other international players who counted against the pool. A team would also have to pay the Fighters a posting fee which would presumably be the $20 million maximum under the new rules, which does not count towards your international bonus pool. And while there has been speculation that teams might try to skirt the rules — say, signing him to the required minor league contract with the bonus per the pool, and then signing him in April to a large extension, or agreeing to pay him salaries well above the major league minimum prior to his being arbitration-eligible -- the indications seem to be that such contracts would not be approved by MLB, and would possibly result in sanctions to the team.
If Ohtani comes over, the Rangers would seem to be one of the teams that would court him most aggressively, and given that there’s not going to be a big difference between what the Rangers could pay him and what any other team could pay him, the recruiting war which would occur would be fascinating. The Rangers have scouted him this year and have reportedly worked to develop a relationship with him, and there is some speculation that the Rangers’ decision to run a full page ad in a Japanese paper after trading Darvish, thanking him for his time with the team, was intended in part to show Ohtani and others in Japanese baseball their respect for Darvish and Japanese baseball in general.
Whether Ohtani pitches or not this season would seem to be immaterial to how the bidding goes, given how small the total outlay would be to acquire him, compared to what would likely be a $150-200 million contract if he were a true free agent. That said, it still remains to be seen whether he opts to come to the States now, or waits for at least another year.
Whenever he decides to head to the U.S., though, Ohtani will be the top priority for the Rangers. And if they can somehow land him, he would be a difference maker in terms of the team’s outlook going forward. If nothing else, landing Ohtani for 2018 should put an end to the “tear it down and rebuild for 2020” talk — and one would think that, if one wants to sign Ohtani, showing that the team is planning on contending in 2018 would be a major selling point, as well.