The big news on the prospect front is that one of the top prospects in Japan, Shohei Otani, has declared his intention to pitch in America. Although he instructed Japanese teams not to draft him, he was selected by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the first round. I’ve seen conflicting information on this, but it looks like he will be still be able to sign with an MLB club at any time, despite being drafted. As he is not under contract with a Japanese team, he will not have to go through the posting process that often drives the price up on Japanese stars. Should the Astros pursue this intriguing talent? And do they have a chance of signing him?
According to available scouting reports, Otani is a tall, strong pitcher, who has been clocked in the high 90’s with his fastball, with less refined offspeed offerings including a slider, splitter and slow curveball. He has struggled significantly with his command. If he were in the MLB draft, he would likely be a first round talent, but no sure thing. The Astros need young pitching, and Luhnow has made it a point to stockpile as much first round talents as possible, though any avenue available. I fully expect the Astros to kick the tires on this high risk high reward signing.
In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, a cap was placed on international bonuses. For the 2012-2013 signing period, the cap was placed at $2.9 million for all teams. Penalties for exceeding that cap are harsh, but not as harsh as the penalties for exceeding the draft pool. Exceeding the pool by 10-15% carries a 100% tax and a $500,000 limit on bonuses to any one player in the next year signing period. Over 15%, the limit drops to $250,000. Depending on how each team views the potential of Otani, this might not serve as a deterrent for a large bonus. Jim Callis does not believe the cap will be a major factor in Otani's bonus.
Beginning in the 2013-2014 signing period, the cap is based on the previous season's record, and the Astros would have a distinct negotiating advantage with $4.7 million in available bonuses. As it stands now, assuming Otani signs before July 2013, the playing field is relatively level. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers have shown interest, and the Rangers can use Yu Darvish as a recruiting tool. If the Astros believe Otani represents a first round talent, I believe they should definitely pursue getting him into the system. I think they should be hesitant, however, to incur any penalties, particularly the year before their available bonus pool will increase. I don’t think we should get our hopes up too high. What say you?