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Olney: How can Shohei Otani make up $200 million in squandered value?

From ESPN - September 17, 2017

Lets get this part of the Shohei Otani drama out of the way: All 30 Major League Baseball teams will presumably submit the paperwork indicating a willingness to pay the $20 million posting fee for the multitalented star. A failure to do so -- even for executives who believe they have no chance of landing Otani -- would be the general managers version of failing to run out a ground ball. No GM wants to explain to his fan base why he didnt at least express formal interest in the player who will dominate baseballs offseason.

Beyond that, the anticipated chase of Otani is shrouded in mystery, with evaluators trying to figure out what factors will make the difference when the would-be pitcher and slugger makes his decision about where he will play.

Could it be geography? Could it be market size? Could it be friendships? Could it be the recruiting talents of former Japanese stars, such as Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui? Could Otani's endorsement opportunities be pivotal? Could it be the agents relationship with specific teams? Could it be the designated hitter rule?

Could it be none of the above and really pivot around something that no team knows about?

Scouts have invested a lot of time trying to find clues to the formula for landing Otani, and yet, one evaluator said recently, Its incredible how many unknowns there are.

That Otani will apparently forge ahead with plans to play in MLB in 2018 in spite of the fact that he stands to make more money by waiting two years has only increased the appreciation for the player. It tells you that hes serious about wanting to play against the best possible competition, one executive said. Hes putting his money where his mouth is.

As far as we know, anyway; Otani has actually been extremely careful in talking about his plans, a reticence that has only increased the uncertainty for teams as they try to assess the situation.

In some respects, Otanis circumstances are a lot like those for a five-star college basketball recruit: Teams will attend his games as much to be seen as they are to see him, to reinforce the perception of their interest. And, some of those interested in Otani wonder about what rule-bending financial arrangements might take place.

One evaluator estimated that, in a vacuum, Otani might be worth $200 million if he was a free agent up for auction. But because of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement executed by MLB and the players' association last fall, the most that Otani, 23, can receive is the money available under the international signing restrictions. The Associated Press reported the other day that the Texas Rangers could offer the most money to Otani at $3.535 million. The New York Yankees can offer $3.25 million. Offers from other teams would be in the same fiscal neighborhood, which is what a lot of middle relievers receive -- not superstar-level players, which is what executives expect Otani will be, whether he eventually pitches, hits or does both. His fastball has been clocked as high as 101 mph recently, and last year, he batted .322, with an OPS of 1.004. Otani played through an ankle problem and batted .341 this year.

So how do you make up for that $200 million in squandered value, one official wondered.

A theory floated is that the team that lands Otani could circumvent the financial limitations in place by assuring the player that they wont tender him a contract after the first or second season, allowing Otani to become a free agent -- with a prenegotiated deal to follow with the team that cut him free. But sources indicate that Major League Baseball would view that as an obvious attempt to effectively break the rules and would come down hard on Otanis MLB team. Because theres no reasonable logic to failing to tender a contract to a young star player other than to get around the rules, said one official.

Otanis situation will be highly scrutinized and commissioner Rob Manfred has made it known he wants the integrity of the current international-signing system to be honored.

Otani is a great player, Manfred said the other day. We are always interested in having great players in Major League Baseball. From my perspective, I am more concerned about having the right, durable system than whether a player comes this year or two years from now."

Some evaluators believe that whoever Otani picks to serve as his agent will have to play a crucial role, because that agent may have to arrange an understanding of how the player can recoup his value after 2019, when the rules would allow him to lock in a long-term contract. That kind of off-the-record deal-making is against baseballs rules, but as one official said, Lets not be nave. ... Youll need an agent with the relationships to get that done.

But no one seems to know Otani well enough to get a sense of what hell ask for or expect. Would he want to play in New York, with Masahiro Tanaka? Would he want to play in L.A.? San Francisco? Texas, where his friend Yu Darvish fared well? Does he like the apparent flexibility in how the Dodgers arrange their roster? Would he like a chance to serve as a DH? Would he prefer a pitchers park? Would he want to be the latest in the Red Sox tradition of great left-handed hitters and effectively step into the role left behind by David Ortiz? Does he harbor a secret desire to own Milwaukee and have season tickets to the Packers?

Within the industry, there is an expectation that the usual suspects among the big markets will have an advantage -- the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, etc. We can all pick out the five or six teams that probably have a legitimate shot, one official said.

But no one seems to know for sure, and more and more, it feels like the team Otani eventually signs with will feel like they won baseball's Powerball that will pay annually for years to come.

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