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It’s official: Nippon Ham to post Shohei Ohtani

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Two-way threat Shoehei Ohtani* has said he wants to come play in the United States and, earlier this week, hired a U.S. agent. But the official mechanism necessary to get him here is for his club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, to formally post him.

That official mechanism has been activated. From Kyodo News:

The Nippon Ham Fighters said Friday they will allow slugging ace Shohei Otani to use the posting system this offseason to try to land a deal with a major league team.

“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama told a press conference at a Tokyo hotel concerning the 23-year-old two-way player’s intention to move to the big leagues.

NPB and Major League Baseball’s posting system expired on October 31, but it was reported earlier this week that the two sides have a tentative agreement to renew it, so that shouldn’t be an obstacle.

Ohtani is one of the best, youngest and most unique talents to ever come out of Japan. He’s only 23 but has already established himself as both an ace pitcher and a star slugger, with a 42-15 record with an ERA of 2.52 and a K/BB ratio of 624/200 in 543 innings while batting .286 with 48 home runs and 166 RBI in 1,140 plate appearances.

Since there is now a cap on international signing bonuses for players of Ohtani’s age and experience, his salary will not be high, so most teams will at least make an effort to sign him. In light of that cap, however, Ohtani is going to be looking to sign with a club where he can (a) maximize his non salary earnings via endorsements and the like; while (b) setting himself up for a lucrative long-term extension after his initial deal runs its course. Which is to say that it’s gonna be a freakin’ sweepstakes, with all manner of interesting considerations entering his decision making process.

The free agent class is rather weak this year, but between this and Giancarlo Stanton‘s likely trade, we should still have a lot of wood in the old hot stove.

*Until today we’ve been referring him to “Otani,” but after a lot of research — including reading this excellent piece — we’ve come to the conclusion that “Ohtani” is the better spelling. This is not so cut-and-dry as you’d imagine, actually. He spells it “Ohtani” on his jersey, but the hiccups of Japanese-to-English translation suggest that either is both acceptable yet, at the same time, not quite right. Given that he prefers Ohtani, however, and given that you should, 100% of the time, call people what they wish to be called, not what you think they should be called, we’ll be going with “Ohtani” going forward. 

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.