Surrounded by luxury and overwhelmed resort security, Major League Baseball’s 30 general managers assembled Monday at the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando and immediate cut to the day’s first order of business.
Some executives, including many from the Texas Rangers, caught early-morning flights and needed to eat ahead of three days’ worth of structured meetings about the game and clandestine meetings with other teams player agents.
Those are the actual reason the annual GM meetings matter to the baseball-loving public.
The GMs were also surrounded by friends, not just their counterparts on other clubs. Media members from Japan, possibly all of them, have gathered here, too, with two of their countrymen topping teams’ off-season wish lists.
Former Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish is a free agent and available to sign with any team. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani is expected to be available in a few weeks, though no one seems to know how to get their hands on him.
That duo would still be a big story were the Japanese media, liked and respected by baseball officials, not in attendance. And the answers from Rangers general manager Jon Daniels would all be the same.
“I’d rather not talk about players under contract with another team,” Daniels said when asked specific questions about Ohtani, while on Darvish he said, “I’d rather not talk about a specific guy.”
That’s just how Daniels does business. But one situation is clear-cut (Darvish) while the other remains in the air (Ohtani).
Darvish is free to talk to any team, even if he can’t get the foul taste of his first World Series appearance out of his mouth. Despite allowing nine runs and recording only 10 outs in two starts, including Game 7, the sense in the game is that Darvish’s price tag won’t be affected much.
A team might be willing to go only to $130 million instead of $145 million, which means that Darvish will still get more than the Rangers are willing to pay. Should there be more of an adverse affect, maybe the Rangers could get involved.
Ohtani is on hold despite his Japanese team announcing last week that it will throw him into the posting system. The problem? There is no posting system, and MLB clubs aren’t sure when a new agreement will be reached.
Daniels said that teams have been given an update by MLB, but with only a few details. These meetings could end without clarity going forward, but because Ohtani falls under the international signing rules, the uncertainty isn’t holding up the Rangers’ plans.
“I’m not sure what we’ll learn from MLB,” Daniels said. “It’s like any off-season. You go into it with a variety of options and try to execute the best that you can.”
Ohtani and Darvish might not be the only pitchers from Japan the Rangers are targeting. There Rangers could be looking to Japan for relief help, too.
Former Rangers right-hander Miles Mikolas and another right-handed starter, Hideaki Wakui, have shown interest in pitching in the U.S. in 2018. Mikolas has emerged as a star in Japan after a mixed showing during the Rangers’ injury-wrecked 2014 season, and Wakui has a 3.45 career ERA in 13 seasons in Japan.
Of the two, Mikolas has better stuff, and in 2017 saw a significant jump in his strikeouts. He recorded 187 in 188 innings, while walking only 23 during a 14-8 season with a 2.25 ERA over 27 starts.
In three seasons in Japan, including one that was saw him make only 14 starts, he was 31-13 with a 2.59 ERA. With numbers like that, the Rangers won’t be the only team interested.
“I’m not going to talk about specific players,” Daniels said.
On the relief front, former Arlington High star Chris Martin could be on the Rangers’ radar after two dominant seasons with Ohtani’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Right-handers Yoshihisa Hirano and Kazuhisa Makita also want to come to the majors.
The hard-throwing Martin served as closer in 2016 before sliding into a set-up role in 2017, and posted a combined 1.12 ERA. Hirano is a free agent, having exceeded the requisite nine years in Japan to be granted full free agency, but Makita, only six years a pro, would need to be posted by the Seibu Lions.
Hirano is a closer who has recorded 143 of his 156 career saves the past five seasons. Makita doesn’t work as a closer, but his stuff and funky arm angle have helped him produce ERAs of 1.60 and 2.30 the past two seasons after working the previous four mostly as a starter.
While Hirano is more of a strikeout artist, Makita recorded only 78 the past two seasons in 141 1/3 innings. But the Rangers have a track record of combing all baseball realms in search of relief arms.
“We’re looking for a few contributors, and we’re not in a spot where we’re looking for the one finishing piece,” Daniels said. “We’re going to be open-minded. We’ll look at all areas.”