The Shohei Otani sweepstakes are about to heat up.
Do the Padres have a legit shot at signing the Japanese Babe Ruth? If you ask any Padres official they will tell you that they do. They are dead serious about pursuing the fireballing right-hander, but they have an uphill battle in signing him to a major league deal.
A.J. Preller is surely all over Otani. He has done the proper homework on the 23-year-old ballplayer.
Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito are both members of the Padres front office and they could help bridge a relationship to the Japanese phenom. Sadly though, the Padres have many hurdles to securing the young man. The first issue is the fact the Padres are limited to around $300,000 in international spending this period. Otani will not be a complete free agent like seasons past, as the rules have changes in the last 12 months. Teams are limited in their spending presently. At the most, Otani can get somewhere around $10 million dollars for signing a deal with a major league team. The Padres could trade for some more clearance in the international spending period, but that is really unlikely. At this point, Otani would have to want to come to the Padres and be willing to eat millions upon millions of dollars. In this day and age of modern sports, it seems unlikely that a player will take that much of a hit financially.
His insistence on hitting and pitching in the majors could also be an issue for the Padres, or for any National League team for that matter. Otani has 48 career homers in the Japanese League and holds a respectable .287/.360/.503 batting line for his career. Swinging the bat and being productive will not be an issue, but defensively he could be a liability in the outfield. Factor in that he would conceivably pitch in your rotation while roaming the outfield on his days off, and it sounds scary. Otani has not played the outfield since 2014, when he played eight games there. It looks as though signing with an A.L. team is his best option. He can DH on days when he does not pitch and will have an easier time transitioning to the major leagues.
In the video below you see Otani on the mound in probably his last start in the Japanese League. He is batting fourth in the game. Can you imagine that? Your pitcher batting cleanup. Unreal. He threw a complete game, two-hitter, in which he struck out 10 batters in the 3-0 shutout.
Reportedly, 11 teams were in attendance for this game. It is not clear if the Padres had anyone there.
Otani looked dominant in this game. There were some concerns about his injured ankle, as he had a 2-2 record with a 4.96 ERA coming into the game. He missed roughly half this season nursing the leg issue. Otani featured a fastball that was clocked as high as 101 MPH on the night. He also hit 99 MPH in the 9th inning of the complete game dominant performance. His stuff is as nasty as it has ever been.
Looking at the video above, you see that he is not just a fastball pitcher. Sure, he blows away batters with the pitch, but his secondary repertoire is truly exciting. He is able to locate his slider on the outside corner and has great poise with the pitch. He should have no problem getting major league hitters out consistently.
The last two seasons, Otani has taken his game to the next level. In 167 games, he has hit 30 homers and driven in 98 runs, while recording a .329/.415/.570 batting line. The left-handed hitter has struck out 158 times in the two seasons, but he did manage 78 free passes. His eye at the plate and ability to drive the ball is improving. This young man is a truly fascinating player. He could be a very special.
Do the Padres have a chance at signing him?
The odds are against it, but if there is one thing I have learned in this A.J. Preller era, it’s that anything can happen.