It’s Draft Day

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The Rule 4 draft is today.  That’s the fancy way of saying “the regular old draft.” It used to go on until teams got tired of picking, maybe reaching a hundred rounds. Then it was cut to 50. It’s now a crisp 40 rounds. I fully expect you have your team’s 40 picks all mapped out and are, as we speak, painting yourself in team colors and heading to Madison Square Garden for the insanity.

Oh, wait.  This is not the NFL or NBA so the insanity is kept to a minimum.  Indeed, no one in this draft is going to be a household name already, let alone someone who is going to immediately change the fortunes of the team which selects them.  Baseball just doesn’t work like that.  Which is probably good because I don’t think I could stomach some five-hour glitzy prime-time telecast with baseball’s equivalent of Chris Berman and Mel Kiper barking at me.

Overall, draft experts are saying that there isn’t much in the way of extreme impact talent a la Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, so unless you’re a big fan of amateur baseball or religiously read Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein or Keith Law, you probably don’t know a ton of these dudes. Confession: I don’t either. It’s enough to keep up with the majors and high minors. I’m sort of lost when it comes to the draft — there are people whose full time job it is to follow it — so we’re reading the same stuff in that regard.

It’s even more complicated this year, as several new rules besides the round limits are in place:

Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams will have a pool of bonus money from which to sign players. The Astros, for example, have about $11.2 million to use as bonuses on their 11 picks through the 10th round. The Twins, who have 13 picks in 10 rounds, have about $12.4 million to use for bonuses. Teams face a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they stray from the prescribed bonuses.

All of the teams have been thinking about this since the new CBA was signed, but I imagine it’s still kind of scary for them.  Add in to it the fact that the signing deadline for drafted players has been moved up to mid-July, and there is added pressure.

So, lots of uncertainty. But I do know this much: the Astros pick first and are widely expected to take Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who (a) happens to throw close to 100 m.p.h.; and (b) is from Houston.  And there is nothing as old and time-tested in the baseball draft as tall, hard-throwing Texas pitchers, so it’s not all unusual.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.