Astros owner Jim Crane announced Friday that his club would launch a "full court press" to sign Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani on the day he became posted by his Japanese club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. The lefthanded pitcher/slugger will cost the winning team $20 million just for the right to negotiate with him. Then, big league teams will have to "Shohei The Money" and that's where the Astros will probably come up short.
Ohtani: A yen to get paid
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Japanese professionals count toward the international bonus cap, the same one the Astros went overboard with chasing the likes of Yuli Gurriel and Cionel Perez. Houston only has $300,000 to offer. Meanwhile, the Angels just traded a top lefty prospect to the Braves for reliever Jim Johnson and $1.21 million in international signing cap space, giving Anaheim a total of $1.31 million in signing bonus room to pursue Ohtani.
The Rangers and the Red Sox are two other teams reportedly well positioned to pursue the star player. My guess is that the "full court press" Crane wants is just to make sure the winning club spends as much as possible to bust their budgets.
Personally, I hope Houston doesn't sign him. Japanese stars like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish are worth the cost of luring to the States but there are many others who were big duds on the big stage, such as Hideki Irabu and Kosuke Fukudome. Mixed returns like Kazuo Matsui and Nori Aoki can also result. The World Champs already have plenty of talent and don't need to risk $20 million to find out if Ohtani is great or just ordinary. Ohtani will have until December 22nd to work out a deal.
If Crane wants to throw around some money this winter, how about extending your AL MVP who is only costing you $6 million? He's not even in the Top 5 of Astro salaries. Stiffing your best player because of a contract he signed back when he was a borderline prospect doesn't send a very nice signal to free agents who might judge a team's generosity and sense of value when considering who to sign with - free agents like Shohei Othani.
Speaking of free agents, righthander Mike Fiers is now one. His contract was not tendered for arbitration, the club announced. He was expected to earn more than $5 million if his case went before an arbiter. Fiers will be best remembered for his no-hitter against the Dodgers in 2015 and for his quality pitching in 2017 when the Houston rotation was riddled with injuries.
The Astros have numerous rotation candidates so there would not have been room for him anyway, barring a similar plague of injuries. The Astros also lost catcher Juan Centeno to the Rangers when he was being passed through waivers.
Eight Astros are eligible for arbitration and offers will be exchanged in January. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel and World Series MVP George Springer are expected to carry the biggest pricetags. Catcher/DH Evan Gattis and pitcher Collin McHugh should be in the mid-range while outfielder Jake Marisnick and pitchers Brad Peacock, Lance McCullers and Ken Giles will exceed $1 million apiece but shouldn't cost too much more.
The next big step will be the Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL. on December 10-14.
- Bob Hulsey