The Rundown: Otani Skipping Big Money Could Be Good for Cubs, Bryant Best Dude Ever

Shohei me the Otani!

That’s about as close as we can get when appropriating Rod Tidwell’s famous catchphrase, since two-way Japanese phenom Otani doesn’t want to be shown the money. According to reports out of Japan, which were shared lustily on Twitter by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, the most hyped would-be free agent in recent history will forego what could be hundreds of millions of dollars by signing with an MLB team this winter.

Under MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, players must be at least 25 years old and have six years of service in a recognized foreign professional league in order to be granted full free-agent rights. Should they fall short of those standards, they’re subject to the limitations of international bonus pools that can grow to around $10 million at most.

Because the now-23-year-old Otani’s birthday falls a few days after July 1, the line of demarcation for player age, he would have to wait two more seasons in order to escape the CBA’s restrictions. Having access to a $10 million bonus (not to mention the standard rookie contract of $545K annually, plus arbitration raises in due time) might sound pretty worthwhile to you or me, but we’re not talking about you or me (even though I do oversee a rapidly-growing blogging fiefdom). The man we are talking about can throw over 100 mph and can hit home runs through domes.

And lest you think the hype about his pitching is only about the velocity, take a look at the filth he’s throwing in the clip below. Apologies in advance if the device on which you’re viewing blocks NSFW content, because this is the kind of stuff Ted Cruz would favorite late at night. Pay particular attention to the pitch he throws at the 0:43 mark of the video; it may just be a trick of the camera, but the movement totally defies physics (props to Passan for sharing).

I have no idea what exactly the tweet says, but I’m assuming it’s “H@#* $#*@, what the f*#@ was that?!?!”

That kind of stuff alone would make Otani a coveted free agent, the kind for whom teams would line up to throw money at, but he’s one of Japan’s best hitters too. As in, he’d score a huge deal even if he couldn’t pitch. Put it all together and you have a Ruthian figure with a kaiju twist. And yet the legendary monster is willing to come to American shores for a mere fraction of what he’d be able to earn two years from now.

And that, my friends, is precisely why the Cubs — severe international spending restrictions and all — may yet be in the hunt for Otani’s services. Because of their big-market status, the Cubs find themselves in the lowest tier of bonus pool money ($4.75 million), though they can trade for up to an additional 75 percent of that total. So they could max out at about $8.31 million, just $1.75 million less than the max for the teams in the upper echelon of the pool designations.

While a 21 percent increase in earning power is pretty desirable, we’re talking about peanuts in the grand scheme of MLB’s economy. So such a gap would surely not faze a man who’s already stated a willingness to forego a contract that would likely be in the $200 million neighborhood. Except the Cubs can’t offer Otani the max bonus due to going over their spending limits under the old CBA. Those penalties were grandfathered into the new agreement, which means the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Royals are unable to sign any individual player for more than $300,000 until after July 2, 2018.

Before you bust out your emotional trombone and start playing a sad “womp, womp” about the Cubs not landing Otani, consider again his obvious disregard for money. The Cubs can only offer about 3 percent of the max bonus for an international player, but Otani is already choosing to give up at least 95 percent of what he’d be able to get on a truly open market. And by coming over at such a young age, he’ll still be able to score one big free-agent deal before he gets too far on the other side of 30.

Then you think about the endorsements available to a guy who could become a massive international sensation. Otani is sort of a mythical figure now and he is well-known in the wokest (yes, I know that’s not a real word) subset of baseball culture, but can you imagine what he’d be capable of if he does in MLB what he’s done in Japan? The sky’s the limit and the contract is secondary.

I’m all in favor of players getting all the money they can, but it’s still kind of refreshing to have someone toss incredible wealth aside in order to test himself at the highest level of the sport. Then again, Otani’s going to have more than enough time to capitalize on his talent in other ways, so it’s not as though he’ll be living like a pauper. And lest you think a team could somehow subvert MLB and the CBA by working an under-the-table deal to extend Otani early, Passan explains why such a move is unlikely.

All things considered, I still think the Cubs are a prohibitive non-favorite to land the stud pitcher/outfielder, but the odds may not be as long as they appear on the surface.

Bryant primed for hot streak?

I was not alone — Jesse Rogers and David Kaplan expressed similar thoughts — in advocating for Kris Bryant to be moved into the leadoff spot for at least a little while to spark the offense. He remained in the two-hole Tuesday night, but his three-run homer gave the Cubs a little breathing room and may have signaled an impending hot streak.

Maligned for his lack of clutch hitting and performance with runners in scoring position, Bryant’s homer checked both of those boxes. He hit it with two on and two out in a full count and the score tied. Yeah, I’d say that’s a high-leverage situation.

Much of the issue this season has come from pitchers staying away from the MVP and from him realizing that and not trying to force the issue. You can’t drive in runs when you don’t see strikes, and Bryant knows that he just needs to stay within himself and take what he’s given.

“It just feels weird taking more walks with runners in scoring position,” Bryant admitted after Tuesday’s win. “Obviously, we’re baseball players and we want to hit the ball, but it’s important to take your walks when they give them.

“I feel like I’ve been able to do that this year. I’ve probably had a handful of times where I could have put some pitches in play just to get a run in, but I took the walk. It’s kind of a fine line there.”

Seeing how Bryant is able to learn and adjust to the way pitchers attack him has just been a wonder to behold. And if Tuesday was an indication that he’s settling back into a power groove, he can carry this team through the last couple weeks of the season.

KB writes thank-you notes

Just when you thought Bryant couldn’t get more perfect, we found out that he and his wife, Jess, sent out personalized thank-you notes to folks who sent them wedding gifts. And we’re not talking about wedding gifts from friends and family. No, the newlyweds mailed out notes to the myriad Cubs fans who sent gifts.


More news and notes

  • The A’s have identified land that would allow the team to remain in Oakland with a new, privately-financed stadium. I repeat: PRIVATELY-FINANCED. There are still some hurdles to clear, but here’s to hoping they figure it out.
  • Tyson Ross has been released by the Rangers after struggling in his return from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. I had really been hoping the Cubs would land him this past offseason, but it’s clear that he’s lost a lot of what made him a coveted pitcher in the past. He could still be an intriguing buy-very-very-low candidate, but the lack of control and the whole surgery issue loom large.
  • Cubs Social Media Night was a great success once again. For as gregarious a person as I am online or around people I know, I’m not necessarily a fan of big crowds or being in a room full of strangers. This event is so well organized, though, that neither of those issues comes into play. Various game stations allowed attendees to earn raffle tickets for prizes that included throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at the game, so that’s pretty sweet. I mainly just sat back and took in the festivities at Brickhouse Tavern, loving how much fun everyone else was having. I also got to meet David Kaplan, who is a huge fan and kind of geeked out that I recognized him (okay, not really).
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