Sunday, October 21, 2012

Shohei Otani elects for free agency, Dodgers a possible destination

Get used to the name Shohei Otani, folks. You'll be hearing it for a long time. The Japanese right-hander today announced he will pursue a career in Major League Baseball.

What makes this situation different is he's just 18 years old. Usually, Japanese players are bound to play for the Nippon Professional Baseball League until their mid-to-late-20s, so to get a player of Otani's ability while he's still a teenager could mean great things for him and his team.

Here is some footage of Otani in action.

Otani seems to be excited about the prospect of playing Major League Baseball.
"'I think I will start in the minor leagues but I want to challenge in the majors. It's been my dream since entering high school.'"
The long-term imapct of Otani's decision on the NPB is unknown, but his decision could be the start of something new in Japan.
"Otani was expected to go in the first round of Thursday's amateur draft in Japan.

If he signs with a major league team, Otani would become the first potential top draft pick to make the direct jump from a Japanese high school to the U.S."
However, I'd expect the NPB to fix whatever loophole may be present to prevent too many of these situations in the future.

Signing Otani won't come down to which team offers him the most money. Otani falls under the international spending limits from MLB's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Dodgers have already tapped into some of that budget. It's going to come down to who's the best salesman.

Assistant General Manager Logan White understands that and has been actively on the case for more than a month now.
"The Los Angeles Dodgers will be/were the first to meet with Otani today. They had actually scheduled an appointment to drop by Hanamaki Higashi before they knew that he was going to file his letter of intent. Logan White (Assistant GM, Amateur and International Scouting), Acey Kohrogi (Executive Director, Asian Operations and Scouting), and Keiichi Kojima (scout) are expected to attend the meeting. The Red Sox are also said to be interested.

Dodgers could be front runners for Otani: scout Kojima has been keeping track of Otani since he was a first year high school student and assistant GM White was in Japan in March to watch him pitch in a practice game. Otani will not attend the meeting.  Hanamaki Higashi manager Hiroshi Sasaki will represent him. At least five MLB teams, including the Rangers and Red Sox are said to be interested."
The Dodgers are not shy when attempting to sign Japanese players.
  • Hideo Nomo was the biggest get back in 1995.
  • Kazuhisa Ishii, seen as a solid pitcher at the time, wasn't that great.
  • Takashi Saito, however, was great for the Dodgers. It's too bad he didn't make it to the majors until his late-30s. He could have been something special.
  • Hiroki Kuroda, who I wouldn't mind seeing back with the Dodgers next season, was the most recent prominent player the Dodgers signed out of Japan.
Oh, and who could forget Norihiro Nakamura -- No. 66 in your programs and, well, probably No. 66 in your hearts.

The Dodgers will do whatever they can to get Otani to agree to play in Los Angeles. As I wrote last week, this would be a great acquisition for the Dodgers. I didn't see it as likely (not many did), but now that Otani has elected for free agency, it's exciting to think of the possibilities.

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