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Signing Shohei Ohtani

Is it likely the Padres have a shot at signing an international two-way superstar?

Japan v Netherlands - International Friendly
Could Otani end up in a Padres uniform?
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

One of the biggest offseason talking points for baseball fans across the league will be the proposed landing spot for one Shohei Ohtani, he of the 100+ MPH fastball and MLB-ready swing. Many have pegged the righty as a true 2-way superstar capable of pitching (2.60 ERA, 1.078 WHIP this season) and hitting (.346/.416/.574 this season) in equal amounts. His decision to forgo a wait until he reached age 25 and a payday of $200 million dollars shows that the now 23-year-old is ready to play in Major League Baseball and money is not an object. That money, however, is very much an object to the 30 teams who would love to have such a talent on their roster. Because Ohtani is only 23 and has less than 6 years of professional experience he is subject to international signing bonus rules.

This year’s international signing bonus pool essentially limits teams to how much money they can offer to international players. Last year’s international signing pool had no hard cap; instead teams paid an overage tax for each signing they had that went over their allotted pool. You may remember the Padres flashed the cash last year and went all out on signing players in anticipation of the hard cap being imposed this year. Baseball America states that the Padres international pool this year should be capped at $5.75 million.

Netherlands v Japan - International Friendly Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Here’s the kicker when it comes to signing Shohei: thanks to last year’s spending spree the Padres are now locked into two years of “the penalty” for spending over their international signing pool limit last year. This means the Padres can only sign players for a maximum bonus of $300,000. The Padres aren’t alone in this penalty: the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Royals, Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, White Sox, and Reds are all stuck at being able to offer Ohtani $300,000. Outside of the signing bonus the major benefit to the acquiring team is that Ohtani will be paid the league-minimum as a rookie player.

The teams at the forefront of the Ohtani race are the usual suspects: New York and Boston have acquired extra bonus pool money (they traded for it) and could offer Otani a max of $8.3 million (though the AP has reported New York at a max of $3.25MM). Boston and New York also offer the ability for Shohei to DH on off days thanks to being in the American League and the cachet of massive media markets to watch him play. Shohei will of course look for a team that could also expand his reach into sponsorship opportunities.

This isn’t to say other teams are out of the sweepstakes: the Rangers (reported at a max of $3.535MM) are an intriguing choice in thanks to how the fanbase and team embraced former pitcher Yu Darvish. One can’t ignore Seattle for the legacy of Ichiro. The Dodgers or Giants can’t also be counted out thanks to their curb appeal though the Giants suck out loud and the Dodgers would have to whisper very quietly that they’d open the vault later. Both also lack the ability to DH and would have to find Ohtani a position in the outfield where he normally plays when he isn’t pitching...unless they want him to exclusively pitch. Such an arrangement gives the advantage back to the AL despite both cities being popular with the Asian population.

So where could the Padres land in all of this? Well...

It’s not likely the Padres are serious about making a play for Shohei despite the Japanese ties within the Padres organization: Hideo Nomo and Takashi Saito are part of the Padres front office in efforts to extend the Friar’s reach across the Pacific. A.J. Preller hasn’t scouted any of Ohtani’s starts. The lack of the DH and the Padres currently Team Tanking reforming building bringing back the brown rebuilding doesn’t help to serve San Diego as an attractive spot for a player who wants to hit and pitch regularly for a contending team.

It appears that another superstar talent will pass by the Padres though fans have plenty to look forward to in the burgeoning farm system all the bonus money was tossed at last year.