Shohei Otani, a hard-throwing pitcher and a slugging outfielder, apparently is ready to test his two-way power in the big leagues.
The Yankees, who have scouted him extensively the last couple of years, remain very much interested. General manager Brian Cashman went to Japan late last month to see the 23-year-old righthander, who bats lefthanded.
According to reports out of Japan Tuesday night, Otani, who has been called “The Babe Ruth” of his native country, has decided to make himself available this offseason. The reports said his team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, will post Otani, known equally for his 100-plus mph fastballs and long home runs. He has been hampered this season by ankle and hamstring injuries.
“He’s definitely intriguing,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday. “Obviously, I haven’t really seen much of him. You just hear reports about him. I was asked today, could a guy pitch and DH some, I think it’s possible. I think you’d be concerned a little bit the day before his start, but it does create a unique situation where if he’s able to DH, it kind of opens up another spot on your roster. So to me, times you needed to go to a six-man rotation, it becomes a lot easier with that spot open and there’s some different things that you could do.”
As a result of changes in the collective bargaining agreement, the Yankees won’t be able to outspend other interested teams — and there are a lot of them, including the Dodgers, Rangers, Padres and Cubs — as they did when they signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million deal before the 2014 season. (Tanaka can opt out after this season.)
As an international free agent under the age of 25, teams are limited in what they can spend on him, being able to utilize only what they have in international bonus pool money. Executives and talent evaluators have said Otani, without limitations, would command a contract of at least $150 million and likely much more. Under current rules, the maximum a team could spend on him is in the range of $10 million. The Yankees have about $8 million in pool money available to spend.
Tanaka said in the spring that his exposure to Otani primarily has been watching him occasionally “on TV.” Tanaka said Otani seems capable of pitching and hitting, but that when push comes to shove, “he’s a pitcher.”
Girardi said Otani’s willingness to potentially leave so much money on the table is a reflection of his competitiveness.
“I think he wants to compete against the best,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s what’s in every competitor’s heart, they want to match up against the best to see how they fare. I think it’s great.”