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Photo Credit: Youtube.com

Hilarious Visual Evidence That the Jays Are Scouting Shohei Otani

Dan Evans, who was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ GM from 2001 to 2004, has been with the Blue Jays for several years, currently holding the working as the club’s Director of Pacific Rim Operations. And if there is any player worth seeing who isn’t in the Major Leagues right now, it’s Shohei Otani. The Babe Ruth of Japan!

If that sounds a touch hyperbolic, it is. But if you believe the hype — and, holy shit, I want to — maybe not by all that much. The 23-year-old Otani, who is working his way back from leg injuries, is an incredible prospect as both a pitcher and a hitter. On Tuesday morning (our time), he took to the hill for his third, and longest, start of the season, pitching 5.2 innings of one-hit shutout ball, walking just three and striking out four.

Otani lit up the radar gun at 101 during the game, and brought with him an absolutely filthy slider:

Oh, and the Jays had a contingent there to watch him.

That, in and of itself, isn’t terribly noteworthy. Or… I mean… it’s noteworthy around here, where we haven’t featured a lot of Otani talk — mostly because, of all the pipes in all the dreams in all the world, the idea of him coming to Toronto, and the Jays ponying up to make it happen, certainly is one of them — but it’s been known for a while that the Jays are certainly one of the teams who’ve been most frequently looking at him. (Depressingly real thought: probably just doing some in-person advance scouting for next year when he plays for the fucking Yankees).

For example, Ken Rosenthal noted just before Labour Day that they were one of the clubs who were taking a look at him, as did Ben Badler of Baseball America a week ago. Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times passed along a Japanese report that the Jays were the eighth team to go get a look at him, way back in early June.

But who needs “reports” and “journalism” when there’s a much easier, and clearer way to know for damn sure that the Blue Jays had a group of scouts at the Sapporo Dome this week to watch the prodigiously talented youngster: they were caught on TV playing with balloons!

The link in the second tweet takes you to this little gem of an animated GIF:

Is that Tinnish? I don’t think it is (Update: it isn’t, though I’ve been told that he was there, out of frame). But it’s definitely Evans, and there are definitely Jays logos on a couple of shirts, and Evans — an interesting dude and a great Twitter follow (read a great little interview with him here and follow him here) — is one of the three people, at the time of this writing, to have liked the @NPB_Reddit tweet. So… yeah… that’s them.

Which, sadly, doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a complete and utter fantasy that the Jays will ever land Otani. But still! MAYBE! They care enough to go and see him, which… maybe says something? I don’t know. Probably not.

Hey, but if they like what they see (and how could they not?), there may still be time to get their ducks in a row on this one. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote this summer about how a bunch of likely suitors spending big on July 2nd free agents — thus draining their international bonus pools, and therefore what they can offer Otani should he be posted by his club, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Figthers — makes it seem especially unlikely that Otani will be coming to North America next year. Teams would have to get ultra-creative to land him under the current system anyway (read: circumvent the rules with some kind of handshake deal in order to be able to pay him anywhere close to what he’s worth), so… yeah… seems like this drama might continue on until he reaches full-on free agency in 22 months.

At least there will be ballons!

ON THE OTHER HAND…

Just after I hit publish on this, Hernandez published a fresh Otani piece for the LA Times, in which he says the bonus pool logic may be going out the window!

There is an increased sense of urgency for major league teams to watch Ohtani. They are under the impression he will move to the United States in the upcoming offseason, even if doing so could cost him upward of $200 million because of Major League Baseball’s international signing rules.

Yes, cost him. Because his salary will be artificially suppressed by the CBA, and because $200 million is a pretty good guess at the kind of money he’d be looking at as a true free agent — even despite having never faced big league competition, Yu Darvish got a $60 million contract when he came over, plus his team was paid a $51.7 million posting fee (fee’s are now capped at $20 million).

Hernandez talks up Otani’s intriguing tools a whole lot better than I have, too:

He is a physical freak of nature, 6 feet 4 with massive shoulders and long limbs. As a right-handed pitcher, he clocked the Japanese league’s fastest-ever pitch at 102.5 mph last year. As a left-handed batter, has smashed 500-foot home runs. And he consistently covers the 90 feet between the batter’s box and first base between 3.8 and 4.0 seconds. (Ichiro Suzuki in his prime was only slightly faster, and he was a slap hitter.)

So… yeah. You see why this is a bit of a big deal. Sportsnet sent Arden Zwelling to Japan to Write about Otani earlier this year, and it’s worth a read, too.

More from Hernandez:

Asked whether he was starting to form an idea of what he wanted to do, Ohtani replied in Japanese, “Not at all.”

But that’s not what major league teams are hearing. Which is why Tuesday’s game was watched by 32 scouts and executives from 16 teams.

Hmmm…

      • Stolen Prayers

        I articulated poorly. I thought, given his age, he has to take a rookie contract and thus a) every team will pony up $20 MM (since it’s basically nothing) and b) because he had to take a rookie contract, and thus is essentially zero risk. I can’t imagine any amount of scouting will change anyone’s mind.

        Not to say there aren’t a million *winks* and *nudges* with the rookie contract (can you extend a guy after 1 games!?), but MLB will presumable crack down on anything TOO blatant.

        • Stolen Prayers

          Wow my punctuation is all over the place here… Let’s try again:

          I thought, given his age he has to take a rookie contract and thus a) every team will pony up $20 MM (since it’s basically nothing) and b) because he had to take a rookie contract, and is thus essentially zero risk, I can’t imagine any amount of scouting will change anyone’s mind.*

          *Not to say there aren’t a million *winks* and *nudges* with the rookie contract (can you extend a guy after 1 game!?), but MLB will presumable crack down on anything TOO blatant.

          • Ahh, my bad.

            I get what you mean, but I still think you have to scout him. Teams still have to trade for bonus pool money, or find ways to get creative about it — or, like you say, to work out handshake deals (which MLB will be wary of, but they can only do so to a point).

            But you’re right, it’s a $20M posting fee and then they can only pay him out of their international bonus pool.

  • Brando83

    I think the issue is the team with the most need is usually the highest bidder. Because the Jays have a full-time DH (and he’s not going anywhere… at least not in 2018), he would be limited to a spot in the rotation and pinch hitting (as opposed to possibly DHing on some of the other 4 days).

    Obviously, the Yankees are usually going to be the first name to come up for such a player, but also NL teams would love to have a pitcher who can hit like that (off the top of my head, the Dodgers?).

    That slider though…

    • ErnieWhitt

      I would say there is almost no chance of a team allowing a player like Morales standing in the way of their negotiations with such an elite player. Not suggesting the Jays will be successful but there are many ways to rid themselves of Morales should they feel compelled.

    • Teddy Ballgame

      I’d love the Jays to get him, but the potential to have a guy who can pitch and hit high in the lineup would be awesome to see. Question regarding the rules…if an American League team wanted to have the pitcher bat instead of using the DH, there’s no provision against that, is there?

      • JK

        If you are asking whether a team can assign a DH to hit in place of a non-pitcher (e.g. have Morales bat instead of Goins and have the pitcher hit for himself), the answer is no. The DH can only bat in place of the pitcher. I think it would be really cool if teams could do that, but the answer is no.

        Teams do not have to use a DH if they want their pitcher to bat for himself, but the DH cannot replace any other player in the lineup.

  • IMW

    Assuming they don’t find a way to circumnavigate the rules it seems to me the team that “wins” will be the one that can convince him and his agent that their city offers the best sponsorship opportunities.

    So what I’m saying is… has anyone gotten on the phone with Booster Juice yet?

  • Just Jeff

    I would assume that whoever gets him is going to have to agree to let him both hit and pitch on a regular basis. Does that rule out NL teams because they can’t put him at DH? I don’t imagine that you’d want to put him anywhere where he’d have to throw on his non-pitching days. Where does he play in Japan when he’s not pitching?

    • The Humungus

      He’s a DH on his off days there as well.

      And yeah, he’s definitely going to wind up in the AL. He’s played OF before, but officially, not since 2014.

      • with his physical abilities (size, speed, strength) and arm, DH seems like a waste, unless the idea is to use him as a full-time starter, and thus want to rest him as much as possible between starts. i have a hard time thinking he’ll be a true two-way player in MLB, i think teams are way too risk-averse.

        • The Humungus

          That’s what they’re doing in Japan. He’s a full-time DH and he starts once a week. I’d guess he’s probably the Sunday starter and then he doesn’t hit Tuesday to have two full days of recovery after a start.

          Or, at least, he did before this year. He was too hurt to pitch all year, so he’s only DH’d until 2 weeks ago.

  • ‘negotiating’ in this case means: where he wants to play, where he’ll make the most in off-field $ to offset the money he’s sacrificing the first year or two, and which team is willing to risk sanctions by offering an under-the-table handshake deal for, say, an early extension.

  • Section 128

    That GIF doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the Jays have been heavily scouting Ohtani… none of those scouts realize that you don’t tie the ballooon at a Japanese baseball game. You blow it up, hold it closed, then release it at the end of the 7th… probably a first game for all of those scouts.

    The link below suggests that an AL team is out because they tend to use sluggers as DHs, which Ohtani is not. They predict he’ll go to an NL team, and peg the Padres as favorite because 1) Nippon Ham used the Padres’ practice facility during spring training last year and the Padres might have assured Ohtani that he can be a two-way player and 2) Christian Betancourt is an example of the Padres’ willingness to let a player hit and pitch. And that the Betancourt experiment was the Padres’ way of showing Ohtani that he can do what he wants in San Diego.

    https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20170915-00000014-nkgendai-base