September 22, 2017 – Shohei Ohtani and Rob Manfred

Here’s an excerpt of today’s Penning Bull, my jeremiad on the upcoming Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes and the way the owners have set themselves up to look foolish and to lose control of the competitive balance of the game. Oh and also, why they don’t care.

Half of all teams are out of the running, just like that. No one in the National League is going to have access to a player regarded by many as one of the best in the world, even though he’ll come at a bargain price. (We’ll get to what that price will really be in a moment, but it will certainly be a bargain.) The staggering competitive advantage this confers on the 15 teams in the AL, just by virtue of being on the right side of the rule book, is only an exaggerated version of the one they’ve enjoyed for two decades or more. The DH gives AL teams a margin for error in the free-agent and amateur talent markets that NL teams do not have. It allows them to play specialists (not only one-dimensional DHs themselves, but elite glove men who can’t hit at all) much more readily, without any aspect of their team suffering for it. The AL has been the dominant league since the rise of the Core Five (screw cutesy rhymes, that team is nowhere without Bernie Williams) Yankee dynasty, and it’s precisely because the NL is playing by arcane rules that hamper them. That phenomenon goes to another level when Ohtani signs with some AL team this winter.

The second obvious problem with the Ohtani market is the preposterously low bar the cap sets for his official compensation. That is a green light for, if not tampering, then all manner of other shenanigans. Teams will promise him $100-million contract extensions, effective the moment Rob Manfred’s potential legal footing to block such a move starts to soften. They’ll sling money at him under the table in every way imaginable, because the official price tag on him is so far below his market value that even the risk of getting caught (and having to pay a huge fine to the Commissioner’s Office, and losing the right to sign international free agents for the rest of the signing period, and maybe even losing draft picks) is nowhere near enough to deter them.

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