5 biggest Hot Stove items begin with intriguing Shohei Otani hunt
The offseason begins with five forces likely to shape how it plays out.
1. Shohei Otani
The best player in Japan wants to come. His Japanese team has given its blessing — provided it is compensated financially as it sees as fair. The key right now is the Players Association. The union has to decide if it will allow the old Japanese posting rules to reign this offseason, whereby the Nippon-Ham Fighters would receive a $20 million posting fee from whichever MLB team signs the righty pitcher/lefty slugger.
The union is not comfortable on several levels, notably that the Fighters would receive $20 million while the player stands to earn just between $300,000 and $3.5 million because, at 23, Otani falls into the international pool cap limits for players 25 and under.
Still, the strong sentiment within the game is the player so badly wants to come that this will get worked out. Once allowed to come, because of the combination of low cost and high ceiling — not to mention youth and marketing appeal worldwide — the recruitment will be on. Think of this as if LeBron James had decided to go to college rather than the NBA out of high school.
This is pure recruitment with just about every team angling to show why its infrastructure would provide Otani the best opportunities on and off the field to thrive — on the field potentially as both a starter and a position player, at least initially.
2. Giancarlo Stanton
There are a lot of competing factions here as well. Notably, there is the learning curve of a new ownership group, led by Derek Jeter. What does it want? There is a significant financial hole that this group begins in, whereby getting rid of as much of the $290 million Stanton is owed is vital.
But the Marlins fan base deplored the old ownership of Jeffrey Loria, in part, because of his frequent fire sales. And here is a new group marketing the best players in franchise history to start. Can the Marlins really just make this a money dump, or do they have to eat salary to make sure they get significant prospects back? If so, how much?
And Stanton has a complete no-trade clause. Would he OK the Red Sox having seen how the Boston market can so often be cruel to high-profile players? The Cardinals are positioned with prospects and a lucrative local TV deal that is just beginning to land Stanton — but does he want to play in the Midwest? The Giants would love him, but are not prospect rich. There are a lot of moving parts here, so let’s say that the offseason begins with a greater likelihood that Otani comes than Stanton goes.
3. Scott Boras
CAA won the derby to represent Otani. Wasserman represents Stanton. So you have two mega-representation groups involved with the two biggest figures of the offseason. Yet, as he so often does, Boras still looms over the process since he reps five of the biggest free agents: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Greg Holland.
Need a bat, need a starter, need a closer? Boras will be in your life.
For the second straight year, in particular, relievers were as leaned on as ever in the regular season and then took on a center-stage quality in the postseason. Thus, teams no longer are just looking for closers or primary setup men. There is a quest to create deep, versatile relief corps.
Not surprisingly, word is that the initial prices for the many available arms is high at a time when the Mets, for example, want to add at least one quality reliever and the Braves and Astros perhaps two and, really, just about every team is going to delve into this forum at a time when the market is deep with established closers such as Holland and Wade Davis, along with Fernando Rodney if he is still considered in that category.There are well-desired lefties such as Jake McGee, Mike Minor and Tony Watson, and a bevy of righties including Matt Albers, Steve Cishek, David Hernandez, Tommy Hunter, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio, Yusmeiro Petit, Addison Reed, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Anthony Swarzak.
If relievers are on the rise, are starters on the fall? More and more clubs are thinking of trusting all but their best starters to navigate a lineup two times and for the rest, let the bullpen take over – and that becomes more stark in the postseason. The Mets, under new manager Mickey Callaway, are leaning toward this, as an example.
So does that punish starters or are those such as Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn viewed as the types capable still of 30 starts and 200-ish innings? Darvish is particularly fascinating because — aside from Otani — he would have the best pure stuff of any starter. However, he is coming off a World Series of two horrendous outings. How much does that hinder his market?