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Shohei Otani: “I am not a complete player yet”

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Nippon-Ham Fighters’ pitcher-outfielder Shohei Otani is ready to make the jump to Major League Baseball, the two-way star announced during a press conference Saturday. “The other day I met with team officials and stated my intentions,” he said. “My request was met with warm words of support so I hope to do my best in America from next year on.”

The 23-year-old signed on with CAA Sports earlier this week and will be represented by lead agent Nez Balelo as he entertains offers from interested MLB teams. That’s assuming that Major League Baseball can hammer out the terms of a new posting system with the Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball this offseason; specifically, that NPB can get the Players Association to agree to a one-time extension of the old posting system, which would grant the Nippon-Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee for their star player. MLB is reportedly already on board with such a plan.

Assuming everything works out this winter, there’s another question dogging Otani: Will he continue to develop as a hybrid pitcher-outfielder in MLB, or will he hone in on a singular career track with his new team?

Just before I turned professional, I didn’t imagine I would be able to do both,” Otani said. “But since then, the fans have encouraged it, the coaches helped me, and manager (Hideki) Kuriyama made it possible. That has left me with a strong desire, to keep doing it, not only for me, but for them. I don’t know if it will be possible, but I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available. Until that process has started, I can’t say how it might work out.

No matter where he ends up playing on the field, Otani stressed his desire to improve, telling reporters he doesn’t consider himself “a complete player yet” and that his desire to get better has driven his impending move to MLB.

Despite playing through a nagging ankle injury, which culminated in surgery last month, he found marginal success in his fifth year of pro ball. He batted .332/.403/.540 with eight home runs and a .942 OPS through 231 plate appearances and maintained a 3-2 record in five starts, posting a 3.20 ERA, 6.8 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.