The bad news: If the Red Sox are interested in signing Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Otani, they don’t have much money to spend on him.
The good news? Neither does anyone else.
According to figures obtained by the Associated Press recently, the Red Sox have $462,000 remaining in their international bonus signing pool for the period ending June 15, 2018.
That places them 11th among the 30 major league teams.
Otani, 23, is a star pitcher and hitter who intends to come play professionally in North America and recently signed with a certified player agent to represent him – the surest sign yet that he’s intent on doing so for 2018.
Because Otani is under 25, however, he can’t be part of the open bidding system that exists for older international free agents. Instead, he must be content to sign a minor league deal, likely earn the major league minimum of $545,000 for 2018 and be satisfied with a modest signing bonus.
That bonus, under the CBA, must come from teams’ international signing pools, the same pools team use to sign international free agents from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries. Most teams spend the majority of that pool money in July when the international signing period begins, which accounts for the relatively modest totals remaining for most teams.
Some clubs – the Red Sox among them – made deals that saw them obtain additional international pool money to stockpile.
If Otani waited another two years, he could reap a nine-figure deal and set off a wild competition for his services. But Otani is so intent on coming to North America, he’s willing to sacrifice that sort of huge signing bonus, perhaps hoping to recoup some of that money down the road when he’s eligible for major league free agency after six full seasons.
The Texas Rangers have the most money available to spend on Otani, according to the AP, with $3.53 million. Next up are the New York Yankees, with $3.25 million, followed by the Minnesota Twins at $3.25 million. Only three other teams – Pittsburgh ($2.26 million), Miami ($1.74 million) and Seattle ($1.57 million) – can offer seven-figure signing bonuses.
Next comes Philadelphia ($900,000), Milwaukee ($765,000), Arizona ($731,250), Baltimore ($462,000) million and then the Red Sox.
Independent of emptying their bonus pool amounts to land Otani, teams must also be willing to pay a $20 million posting fee to Otani’s current Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Still, that’s a modest amount for someone of Otani’s talent and potential.
Limited this past season because of injuries, he was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA while hitting .332 with eight homers and 31 RBI in 65 games. In his career, he’s 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings in the last five years. As a hitter, he owns a career average of .286 with 48 homers and 166 RBI.
Because Otani wishes to hit as well as pitch, it’s thought that he would prefer to sign with an American League team, which would allow him to DH on days in which he’s not pitching.
The Red Sox hope to be able to sell him on that opportunity, the chance to play for a historic franchise in a famous ballpark and their status as contenders.
The Yankees may have an upper hand, since New York offers the most marketing and commercial opportunities, and their bonus pool money is almost $3 million more than that of the Sox.
Then again, if Otani is willing to come to North America now and forego a far, far greater payday in two more seasons, perhaps money will, for a change, not be the determining factor in this free agent sweepstakes.