CLEVELAND -- Shohei Ohtani was a fit for the Indians in many ways, but acquiring the Japanese phenom was always a long shot for the Tribe. Now, Cleveland is on the outside looking in as the unique recruiting process for the two-way superstar heads into its final stages.After teams made
CLEVELAND -- Shohei Ohtani was a fit for the Indians in many ways, but acquiring the Japanese phenom was always a long shot for the Tribe. Now, Cleveland is on the outside looking in as the unique recruiting process for the two-way superstar heads into its final stages.
After teams made their pitch to Ohtani, news of which clubs were in or out of the running began to trickle out publicly on Sunday. By Monday morning, multiple reports had identified the Angels, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres and Rangers as the seven finalists to sign the international free agent.
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The Indians have not confirmed their standing in the process -- multiple sources did not return messages -- but the team had an uphill battle when it came to the unique situation with Ohtani. While money is clearly not the driving factor for Ohtani's decision, the Tribe only had $10,000 to offer in the way of a signing bonus, which was the lowest amount available among the 30 Major League teams.
Geography was also working against Cleveland. With the exception of the Cubs and Rangers, the bulk of the finalists to sign Ohtani play on the West Coast. No matter how intriguing some teams' presentation might have been, there was a clear preference on Ohtani's part to be closer to that side of the country.
Ohtani was posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters on Friday and has until Dec. 22 to sign with a team. Had Ohtani waited two years, when he was 25 years old, he would not have been subject to international signing rules and could have inked a more lucrative contract. Since he is 23, Ohtani is limited to signing a Minor League contract that includes a signing bonus, which comes from the team's international spending pool. Ohtani would then earn the MLB minimum (around $545,000) in the Majors and would not be eligible for arbitration until 2020.
The Fighters will also receive a $20 million posting fee from the team that signs Ohtani.
Of the remaining suitors, the Rangers ($3,535,000) boast the most available funds. Cleveland began with $5.75 million available, but spent the entirety of its pool on other international signings this year. The Indians' top two signings were shortstop Aaron Bracho ($1.5 million bonus) of Venezuela and outfielder George Valera ($1.3 million) of the Dominican Republic. They currently rank 28th and 25th, respectively, among their Top 30 Prospects, per MLBPipeline.com.
Even with the minimal bonus available, it made sense for the Indians to at least throw their hat into the ring.
Led by two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the Indians boasted the best top-to-bottom pitching staff in the Majors last year. Ohtani, whose fastball has been clocked at 102 mph in the past, would have had a home in the rotation. Cleveland could have also offered the left-handed-hitting prospect at-bats as a designated hitter. With little financial wiggle room this offseason, Ohtani's low salary would have fit within the Tribe's budget.
Now that they are out of the mix, though, and with the Winter Meetings on the horizon next week, the Indians can return to their other offseason goals. Cleveland still has a hole at first base, could use some more bullpen depth and has some uncertainty surrounding the corner-outfield spots. The Indians have free agents in first baseman Carlos Santana and right fielder Jay Bruce, but they will likely have to wait out the market to see if their respective asking prices drop to have a shot at bringing one of them back for 2018.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.