Jon Daniels should have learned in 2011 that there’s no such thing as going incognito in a baseball stadium in Japan.
Cameras there have a way of finding executives from MLB teams, as they did six years ago when Daniels was taking a look at Yu Darvish, and pictures of said executives have a way of showing up on the covers of Japan newspapers’ sports sections.
Such was the case again Thursday, when the Texas Rangers general manager was spotted with assistant GM Josh Boyd and Japanese scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe at a workout for a Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters minor-league team.
The Fighters are Shohei Otani’s team. Otani has been called the Babe Ruth of Japan because he is an elite starting pitcher and an elite slugger. Otani is coming to play in the major leagues after this season, and teams probably want him more for a fastball once clocked at 102 mph than his bat.
The 22-year-old Otani is on the disabled list and working out with the minor-league club, so the Rangers didn’t see him play. Daniels and crew, however, were looking on as Otani threw and worked out.
There are considerable questions about how signing Otani will work based on the restrictions on signing players under age 25 in the new collective bargaining agreement. Otani recent told “60 Minutes” that money is not a factor, and surely Daniels and the other 29 general managers in major league baseball have found a way to get around the rules.
For the first few seasons, at least, it appears that Otani will not command the same kind of salary as previous stars migrating from Japan and Cuba. So, all 30 teams theoretically have a chance at him as long as they are willing to put up the $20 million posting fee that would go to the Fighters.
The Rangers, though, might have an inside edge: Otani and Darvish are friends and off-season training partners. Otani considers Darvish to be his mentor.
Speculation among the Japanese writers covering MLB is that the Rangers could greatly enhance their chances at signing Otani if they are able to keep Darvish, who hits free agency after this season.
The Rangers will potentially have plenty of money coming off the books after the next two seasons (Carlos Gomez, Mike Napoli, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Jonathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels) to lock up Darvish and Otani.
Otani has not yet announced which agent will represent him. If he goes with Joel Wolfe, the Rangers could lock up three pitchers. Wolfe represents Darvish and Ross, and he visited with both earlier this week in San Diego.
Of course, this is getting way ahead of things. But Daniels is in Japan, as the newspapers there showed, so a Rangers-Otani pairing is worth chewing on.