The big news out of Japan today is that the Nippon Ham Fighters have decided to select Shohei Otani with their first-round pick in tomorrow’s NPB Draft, according to Sanspo.
Ever since I tweeted out that information, I’ve been getting a bunch of questions, so I thought I should make a post dedicated to answering them as best I could.
Does the NPB Draft work like the MLB Draft?
The first round of the NPB Draft is a lottery system, where every team submits who they want to take. If you’re the only team that selects a player, then you are awarded his rights. However, if multiple teams select the same player, then there’s a random draw for that player’s services. The system repeats until every team has a player.
So it would be like if all 30 MLB teams decided they wanted Bryce Harper in the first round, then the way it’s determined who gets him is based on the luck of the draw. Literally.
After the first round, it’s a standard snake-format draft.
Why is it surprising that the Nippon Ham Fighters want to draft him?
It’s surprising because he already announced his intention to go overseas. An unsigned pick wouldn’t be a gigantic deal in America due to our compensation system (Mark Appel/Pirates), but in Japan it is because if you don’t sign your pick then the pick is gone forever.
To make matters worse, Nippon Ham already lost their first-round pick from last year, Tomoyuki Sugano, as he refused to sign due to his desire to play under his uncle with the Yomiuri Giants.
Needless to say, Nippon Ham fans aren’t very happy about the risk associated with this, at least judging by a small sample of reactions I found on Twitter.
So why does this complicate things for the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers, the three main teams he’s rumored to be considering?
Unless the MLB and the teams involved really want a mess on their hands, they will not be able to interfere with the exclusive rights granted to the NPB team that drafts Otani until the period of negotiation ends on March 31st. As such, he’ll miss spring ball for 2013 if he’s taken.
So hypothetically speaking, that drags the saga out but it’s just an inconvenience … right? Well, in my opinion, the real risk with him being drafted is that he could be tempted to stay in Japan given time to talk it through with the team that selects him. He is, after all, only a teenager, and there are a lot of reasons besides baseball to want to stay in Japan.
Social and cultural reasons aside, Sponichi makes the case that he would be guaranteed more money by staying in Japan. While the signing bonus from an NPB team would presumably fall short of any MLB offer by a million dollars or so, he could still get a 100 million yen ($1 million) bonus in Japan and he’ll immediately be under NPB contract. On the other hand, in the MLB system, after the bonus money, he would be subjected to the standard paltry pay of a minor-leaguer. Of course, this would be rendered moot by any MLB team willing to accept the penalties in place for exceeding the cap, but I’m not so sure teams would be willing to do so.
Overall, it’s just concerning because it’s easy to say you’re going to do something, but when the easy route is laid out in front of somebody (much less a teenager), with millions of dollars at stake, and a ton of pressure, nobody could blame him for simply taking what might be a record deal given to him by whoever drafts him.
Also of note is that he’ll be banned from the NPB for three years under the “Tazawa Rule” (named after Junichi Tazawa of the Red Sox) if he chooses to go overseas, but I doubt that comes into play.
Who is going to sign him?
I sort of addressed this already, but it’s basically down to the Dodgers, Rangers, and Red Sox, according to him. Others are interested but he’s focusing on those three.
The Japanese media believe the Dodgers are in front because they’ve been in contact with him the longest. While that does mean something, a ton can change, obviously.
How does the NPB feel about Shohei Otani jumping to the MLB?
As I explained in a previous post, this is a trailblazing path for Otani, and the NPB is concerned about the precedent he might set.
Most notably to me, via Daily Sports, the President of the Hanshin Tigers complains that while NPB scouts are restricted in terms of contact and meetings with players, international scouts are not, thus putting NPB teams at a disadvantage for their own players.
I want Cliffs Notes!
If he doesn’t get drafted, negotiations can start tomorrow.
If selected in the NPB Draft, he could be tempted to stay in Japan due to monetary, cultural, and family issues, and even if he does follow through on his overseas ambitions, negotiations with him wouldn’t be able to start until April 1st. As such, it doesn’t appear that this saga will be over for at least another 6-7 months or so.
Since the Dodgers are in the running for his services and he’d definitely be a top prospect in the system if signed, I’ll keep everybody updated on his situation as best I can.