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:
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) September 12, 2017
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!
When you and the Assistant GM (Andrew Tinnish) are trying to keep a low profile while scouting baseball's most prized IFA…. https://t.co/z5baHbvUPp
— Clutchlings (@Clutchlings77) September 12, 2017
Is that Dan Evans releasing a jet balloon at Sapporo Dome? https://t.co/UcDhHLCdvA
— NPB on reddit (@NPB_Reddit) September 12, 2017
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.