By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — After signing catcher Wellington Castillo on Friday to a two-year contract with an option for a third season, the White Sox turned their attention to making a run at Japanese free agent Shohei Ohtani.
The posting of Ohtani was made official by MLB on Friday, meaning the 23-year-old Ohtani, a pitcher/outfielder, has exactly three weeks to sign with an American team. Whichever team he chooses must pay Ohtani’s Japanese club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, a $20-million posting fee.
Ohtani can only receive up to about $3.5 million, as he’s subject to international signing rules by being under 25 years old. The Rangers and Yankees have that money available, followed by the Twins at around $3.25 million. The White Sox are capped at $300,000 because they exceeded their signing bonus pool in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
The White Sox have a handful of selling points. For starters, being in the large Chicago market will offer marketing opportunities that would help raise Ohtani’s profile. Ohtani’s representation recently requested that interested teams submit a presentation that showcased how Ohtani wold prosper in their organization and the environment he’d be entering both with the team and the city.
Most importantly, the White Sox have a strong core of young talent. While many of those players are just getting started in the big leagues or not quite ready, they do fit the age timeline of Ohtani.
“We did submit a presentation,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “I am sure every major league club did the same. Despite the fact that we know the odds are long due to other competition and restrictions to sign the player, we are committed to exploring every potential avenue in order to make this club better for the long term.”
The White Sox have had notable Japanese players in the past. Infielder Tadahito Iguchi was a major contributor to the White Sox’s championship team in 2005, and reliever Shingo Takatsu was a member of the team earlier in that season as well. In a small role, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome appeared in 24 games for the team in 2012.
The smart money is on Ohtani joining an American League team, as the designated hitter role would be ideal for him when he’s not starting or resting his arm.
In 2016, Ohtani had his best season, hitting .322 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs in 104 games and going 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA as well.
“We certainly think he has the ability,” Hahn said of Ohtani’s wish to both pitch in the rotation and play a position. “I am not going to go to go far down the line with this other than to confirm our interest. We know this is a long shot, as I said. We do have a responsibility to leave no stone unturned, exploring every avenue to be in the best position going long term. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take said Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott.That is our approach to this one. We will take our best shot.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.