Why the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes may trigger an MLB investigation

Big League Stew
Shohei Ohtani picked the Angels, but that doesn’t mean the saga is over. An MLB investigation could be next. (AP)
Shohei Ohtani picked the Angels, but that doesn’t mean the saga is over. An MLB investigation could be next. (AP)

Japanese star Shohei Ohtani has chosen the Los Angeles Angels for his much-talked-about jump to the Major League Baseball, but it’s not all going to be a party now — a probe from Major League Baseball may follow.

As ESPN’s Buster Olney and Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan noted Friday before Ohtani made his choice public, the league is on alert for teams acting outside the rules in their courtship of the two-way star known as “The Japanese Babe Ruth.” Because of that MLB may launch an investigation into things. This isn’t to impugn the Angels, it would be the league doing its due diligence. Reports say it would have been the same with the six other finalists in the Ohtani sweepstakes.

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The increased scrutiny is warranted since we haven’t really seen anything like the Ohtani sweepstakes. He’s not a true free agent because he’s not over 25 years old. At 23, Ohtani is considered an international amateur and triggers international bonus pool limits, which means teams have a firm cap of how much money they can offer him.

His talent is worth upward of $200 million on the open market, most experts agree, but the most any team could offer him was $3.5 million. The Angels had $2.32 million to give Ohtani. Because of these under-market-value numbers, MLB will be looking closely for any behind-the-scenes funny business.

From Olney’s story:

Teams were told, again, that they could attempt to persuade Ohtani to join based on the merits of their respective organizations and their cities, but they were warned against discussing future contracts and business relationships, and against third-party machinations — paying off someone who might have influence with Ohtani, for example, or making quid-pro-quo promises outside of the rules.

“The commissioner’s attention on this has been unprecedented,” a team executive told ESPN. “There’s a lot of avenues for cheating, and I think [MLB is] well-aware of that.”

Ohtani will now get the same type of contract a draft pick would get. It will start low, increase through arbitration and he’ll hit free agency in six years. Teams often try to sign such young stars to extensions before they hit free agency. Think Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, who both signed extensions years before hitting the open market.

For example: a team could have promised to give Ohtani a $200 million deal in two years if he signed with them and such a deal would be within the norm in 2020. But in this case, MLB would be looking to make sure teams didn’t promise Ohtani that right now.

To prove that MLB is serious, Passan says it threatened teams with big penalties if they skirted the rules with Ohtani.


On the heels of the Braves’ penalty for international rule-breaking — their GM quit and they had 12 international prospects declared free agents — it doesn’t sound like MLB is playing around.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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