Few players that have arrived in MLB from a foreign environment have been as intriguing as Shohei Otani. In fact, the Japanese hitter/pitcher is probably the biggest name posted in the NPB in recent memory.
Otani has shown flashes of being an absolute stud during his tenure in one of the most complex leagues outside of MLB. He can pitch, hit, run, and practically do everything on a baseball diamond. The numbers do not lie. Otani hit .332/.403/.540 with eight HR, 31 RBI, and 24 runs scored in 202 at-bats. But he also finished with a 3-2 record and a 3.20 ERA in five starts for the Nippon Ham Fighters. In other words – he can become a dual weapon the MLB hasn’t seen in modern history.
Which Teams Should Pursue Otani?
One would expect all 30 teams to bid for his services. However, only a few organizations have a realistic shot at signing this 23-year-old baseball phenom. So for instance, even though the Texas Rangers and the San Diego Padres have previous links with Otani, they’re not getting him. The Seattle Mariners have also been mentioned as a possibility since the franchise’s GM, Jerry Dipoto is reportedly open to let Otani be a pitcher and a position player. But Otani wants to win now, and the Mariners are just not ready to contend, let alone make the playoffs in the American League.
This scenario leaves us with only two realistic competitors for his services. We are talking about Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
Analyzing the Yankees’ Chances:
The Yankees have been constantly linked with Otani and for good reason. The scouts love him, and the Yankees have been reaping the benefits of Masahiro Tanaka, the latest big-name player to come out of Japan and someone who quickly established as a reliable arm at the MLB level. Otani hopes to do the same, and the Yankees could certainly use his rare skill set. They need to bolster their lineup – so Otani could eventually become a DH – but also need to acquire arms for the rotation. In that sense, the 23-year-old fits perfectly into what the team wants for the immediate future.
Analyzing the Dodgers’ Chances:
The other realistic alternative to land Otani is the Dodgers, the reigning NL champions. Los Angeles has the biggest Japanese-American population in the entire country, so Otani would probably feel at home in LA. But the Dodgers also have Yu Darvish on their roster, and the former Texas Rangers ace is Otani’s biggest idol. The Dodgers can definitively pay Otani, but there’s an emotional component here. Do you really think he would reject the chance to play with his childhood idol on a daily basis?
Plus, the Dodgers have enough talent to win right away. They have reached the NLCS this past two years and recently lost 3-4 to the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series. Otani would certainly transform LA into an even bigger powerhouse because his sole presence would automatically improve both the rotation and the lineup.
There are always surprising teams that sneak into the race to sign coveted foreign players. But by now, everybody knows who Otani is. So it wouldn’t be surprising if his posting ends up becoming a huge bidding war between the Dodgers and the Yankees. As of right now, they are the two franchises that seem better equipped to land the Japanese phenom.