Dodgers in lead for services of phenom Shohei Otani + Video + Remaining international budget

The Dodgers are “front-runners” for the services of Japanese high school phenom Shohei Otani, according to the Japanese media. Meanwhile, stateside, Alex Speier of WEEI and Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News both confirm the Dodgers interest in the 18-year-old, who stands 6’4″ at 190 pounds.

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Logan White and the Dodgers scouting department has been cultivating a relationship with Otani and his coach for a while now, and it appears to be paying dividends.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will be/were the first to meet with Otani today. They had actually scheduled an appointment to drop by Hanamaki Higashi before they knew that he was going to file his letter of intent. Logan White (Assistant GM, Amateur and International Scouting), Acey Kohrogi (Executive Director, Asian Operations and Scouting), and Keiichi Kojima (scout) are expected to attend the meeting. The Red Sox are also said to be interested.

Dodgers could be front runners for Otani: scout Kojima has been keeping track of Otani since he was a first year high school student and assistant GM White was in Japan in March to watch him pitch in a practice game. Otani will not attend the meeting. Hanamaki Higashi manager Hiroshi Sasaki will represent him. At least five MLB teams, including the Rangers and Red Sox are said to be interested.

So why all the commotion over him? Well, he touches 100 mph with his heater and has an assortment of off-speed pitches that he flashes in the videos at the bottom of this post. Additionally, this would mark the first time that a Japanese high schooler comes to America without first going through the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball), so it’s potentially a trailblazing moment as well.

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As you could probably guess, due to him not currently being owned by a Japanese team, there will be no posting fee involved here, but he will be subject to international signing rules. Until June 15, 2013, all teams have $2.9 million to spend (July 2, 2012 was the start date of the period, hence Yasiel Puig) on the international market, and while they can spend more, the penalties are severe.

The rules for the spending pools are somewhat similar to the Draft spending pools in terms of the penalties that come with going over the limit. Going over by up to five percent will result in a 75-percent tax on the overage. Landing in the 5-to-10-percent range will bring a 100-percent tax and the loss of the right to give more than one player in the next signing period a bonus of more than $500,000. Going over by 10-to-15 percent will lead to a 100-percent tax and the inability to sign any player for more than $500,000 in the next signing period. Any team going over a 15-percent threshold will get hit with a 100-percent tax on the overage and won’t be able to exceed $250,000 for any one player in the next signing period.

But the Dodgers don’t care about money, so just offer him eleventy billion dollars!

They may not care about money, but they probably do care about not being able to spend more than $500k or $250k on a prospect during the next signing period, as it would mean not being able to secure elite talent. So in that sense, the rules become restrictive regardless of financial wealth, which is what was intended.

So with that established, how much do the Dodgers have to spend?

If you recall, the Dodgers previously inked five international prospects for around $1.1-1.3 million. They later signed Julio Urias, but only around 25% of his fee will count against the cap.

So just guesstimating here, if the Dodgers are willing to go into the first tier of penalties, they should have around $1.5-1.6 million to play with. That’s likely adequate compensation to get a deal done if Otani wants to sign with the Dodgers.

And that’s a big “if”.

It’s unlikely that the primary obstacle here will end up being money. Otani’s decision will likely revolve around his willingness to leave home for a foreign land as a teenager, his ability to deal with becoming a trailblazer and breaking tradition, and perhaps most importantly, the ramifications his decision will have on the relationship between him and the NPB, the MLB and the NPB, and the Dodgers and the NPB.

Unlike Korea and Taiwan, who inexplicably (IMO) let MLB teams pilfer their amateur talent, the NPB still has a handshake agreement in place with the MLB regarding their amateur players. And while I don’t have an inside track on how this all shakes out, given Otani’s immense talent, if he decides he wants to sign overseas, the strength of that agreement will be put to the test.

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Shohei Otani Touching 100 MPH

Shohei Otani Game Footage

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