The New York Mets have a lot of needs this winter, and they appear to be open to a pursuit of the top international free agent on the market. Starting pitcher Shohei Otani is expected to be posted by the Nippon Hokkaido-Ham Fighters, and his unique circumstances may leave him within the Mets’ financial reach, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. Otani, who is a top line starter in Japan with the ability to hit for power as an outfielder, is a truly unique prospect due to his decision to come to the major leagues early. Most top Japanese players play at home until age 25, when they get posted by their clubs and are eligible to sign for any amount of money a big league team offers. Otani is coming to the majors at age 23, meaning he would be subject to Major League Baseball’s international free agency guidelines, limiting his signing bonus to a maximum of $3.5 million dollars.
This decision would also subject Otani to MLB’s rules on team control, meaning any franchise that acquires him would have Otani under team control for six years, with the first three at the league minimum. That creates a rare opportunity for a bargain, as any team that is willing to put up the $20 million posting fee could negotiate with Otani. Since Otani is bypassing a huge payout by waiting two years, off the field financial opportunities could weigh heavily on his decision, and the fact that the Mets play in the New York market is a big selling point.
The issue for the Mets is that a lot of big spenders will be in on Otani as well, including the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets have only $150,000 left in international bonus money for this signing period, so they would need to acquire more pool money through trades if they want to offer a comparable sum to the Yankees or Dodgers. Otani may also want to play for a team that will let him hit on days he doesn’t pitch, which could give American League teams (like the Yankees) an edge since they have the designated hitter to play with. The Mets do have an open spot in the outfield, but guaranteeing a part time job to Otani is risky since his hitting isn’t as advanced as his pitching according to many scouts. GM Sandy Alderson would need to do quite a selling job to get Otani to come to Queens, but if he can do it the Mets would have a creative solution to one of their big problems (rotation depth) for a very reasonable price.