The off-season is only 12 days away for two-thirds of the teams in Major League Baseball, which means the also-rans will get a head start on their winter planning if they choose to take it.
Most of the teams who plan on making a run at Shohei Ohtani, contender or pretender, have already started their legwork on the next big thing out of Japan. Commissioner Rob Manfred has, too.
Manfred, who was at Safeco Field as part of his tour of franchises, said that he expects teams to stay within the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement in regards to signing international free agents under the age of 25, as Ohtani will be should he be posted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Teams, including the Texas Rangers, are expecting that to happen, but Manfred doesn’t expect clubs to find any loopholes.
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“With regard to speculation as to what clubs are going to do, in today’s basic agreement structure, there’s only so much you can do in an effort to avoid the rules,” Manfred said. “And I have an outstanding staff in New York. If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic that nobody has ever heard of, you might get past us. Given the focus on Ohtani, not only by our office but by the clubs as a group, I think it’s very, very unlikely a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught if they attempt to avoid the rules.”
Ohtani must be signed with money from a team’s international bonus pool, meaning he can’t sign the kind of lucrative deals that Cuban stars Yasiel Puig and Yasmany Tomas signed before turning 25.
Teams are permitted to acquire international slot money from other clubs, something the Rangers have done since spending most of their pool July 2 on free agents in Latin America. Clubs must also pay the $20 million posting fee to the Fighters should Ohtani decide to negotiate with them.
Ohtani, a two-way player with a 100-mph fastball and 25-homer power, is forgoing a potential nine-figure payday in two years by deciding to come to the United States after this season.
The Rangers will have three openings in their rotation to fill, and Ohtani is a target. The Rangers have scouted him extensively, and general manager Jon Daniels went to Japan in May to see him even though he was injured.
“Look, the biggest picture on Ohtani, he’s a great player,” Manfred said. “We want to have the best players in the world playing in MLB. I’m hopeful at some point when it’s right for him and the team he’s under contract to, they make a decision to allow him to come here and play. I think it would be a very exciting thing for Major League Baseball.
“Great players, we want them here. But more important than getting Ohtani is making sure we have the right international system in place. I’m not so anxious to have him here that I’m prepared to compromise on what should happen in terms of the international talent acquisition system.”