Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jelfry Marte, Shohei Otani and $3 million

There was a brief, if misplaced, stir in the Twins twitterverse Wednesday regarding Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani.

It started with this report from Baseball America's Ben Badler, who has developed quite the speciality in covering the Latin America prospect market. It was the first time it had been reported that the Twins had negated their major signing in that market this summer, shortstop Jelfry Marte, after the Dominican shortstop failed the physical.

The sentence that stirred the tweets:

With Marte's contract voided, the Twins have an extra $3 million available in their bonus pool for the 2017-18 signing period, which ends on June 15, 2018.

The next sentence mentioned Otani and Cuban defector Julio Pablo Martinez as prominent foreign prospects not yet eligible to sign but likely to hit the market during this signing period.

Last week the Associated Press had noted that three teams, including the Twins, had more than $3 million remaining in their foreign spending pool, so some of us promptly added the two sums together. Hey, $6 million to throw at Otani!

Uh, no. The Twins have $3.2 million in their pool because they canceled the Marte signing earlier. It just wasn't widely known.

Otani's pending arrival in the American market is shrouded in uncertainty. The specific rules are actually being developed. What we know:

  • He's two years away from being a true free agent for U.S. baseball
  • He will cost the team that lands him a tiny fraction of his open market value
  • He really wants to play in the United States anyway
  • and he wants to both pitch and hit.

Given the prodigious talent and the restricted investment, every team should want Otani, and the Twins are clearly interested. Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, said this week on MLB Network of Otani's desire to be a two-way player here:

“I think we’d let him do whatever he damn well pleases to come to Minnesota.”

The Twins don't have a full-time DH. They clearly can use a top-flight starting pitcher. I can imagine them using Otani as a part-time DH in between starts. If he gets the day before and the day after a start off, he can DH the two days in the middle. (He plays outfield in Japan, but he's unlikely to do much of that here to minimize the injury risk.) And, as noted, the Twins have about as much money to spend on him as anybody.

Is Otani likely to favor Minnesota? Unknown. Will his hit tool play in the majors? Unknown. (Nobody doubts the power tool.) There may be more lucrative places, in terms of endorsement money both in Japan and in the United States, for him to start his American career. But the Twins do appear to offer a good portion of what he appears to desire in coming to America.

I doubt the Twins canceled the Marte contract simply to give themselves a better shot at Otani. A bird in the hand and all that; if they still thought him worth the $3 million bonus, they'd have kept him. But Otani is certainly a prize to dream on.

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