Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels is in Japan for a special scouting trip this week, according to reports from MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, among others. Daniels, along with assistant GM Josh Boyd and team scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe, are taking an extended look at Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Otani.
Otani is the top talent in Nippon Professional Baseball and very well may be one of the top talents in Major League Baseball if he chooses to continue his career in the United States. He’s been out of the Nippon-Ham Fighters’ lineup for nearly five weeks due to a lingering thigh injury, but was able to hold a workout session prior to the Fighters’ game, where the Rangers were reportedly in attendance.
There’s still some ambiguity surrounding Otani’s move to Major League Baseball. Last month, a 60 Minutes interview with the young star revealed that Otani was considering a transition as early as 2018, even in light of current league rules, which cap the posting fees at $20 million and stipulate hard salary caps for any international player under 25 years old. The Rangers, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds, are likely trying to build some goodwill with the young pitcher ahead of the decision process, and may even have an advantage due to one special relationship with another Texas pitcher:
Otani and Darvish are friends and off-season training partners. Otani considers Darvish to be his mentor. Speculation among the Japanese writers covering MLB is that the Rangers could greatly enhance their chances at signing Otani if they are able to keep Darvish, who hits free agency after this season.
Even if the Rangers successfully retain Darvish, however, they won’t be the only team competing for Otani’s services over the next couple of years. Daniels may have a leg up for the time being, but the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball is sure to attract considerable interest around the league as his MLB arrival date draws near.