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Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi discusses Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who’s expected to join MLB this winter

When Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman and Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman traveled over 6,000 miles from New York to Saporro, Japan to watch the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters’ two-way phenom Shohei Otani play two weeks ago, Cashman’s comments to reporters on the 23-year-old’s performance were forced to be rather brief.

However, with Otani expected to leave Japan for Major League Baseball this winter — according to multiple Japanese reports — Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi can’t help himself from mentioning him in conversation.

“[Otani’s] definitely intriguing,” Girardi told the New York Daily News before the Yankees faced the Rays on Wednesday. “Obviously I haven’t seen much of him, I just hear reports about him. I was asked today: ‘Could a guy pitch and DH some?’ And I think it’s possible. I do.

“I think you’d be concerned a little bit the day before his start. But it does create a unique situation where if he’s able to DH, it does kind of open up another spot on your roster. So to me, times where you need to go to a six-man rotation becomes a lot easier with that open spot. And there are some different things you could do.”

Due to Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players can’t enter true unrestricted free agency until age 25. So if Otani chooses to leave his homeland for the states this offseason, he’ll be treated like a young international free agent. This would cost him hundreds of millions of American dollars if posted by Hokkaido. According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, Otani can be paid a maximum of $10.1 million — in addition to a tentative $20 million posting fee. For more information on the logistics of signing Otani, Passan covers it here.

“I think he could probably get a pretty good salary over here, and I think he probably wants to compete against the best,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s great. I think that’s what’s in every competitor’s heart. They want to match up against the best and see how they fare, so I think it’s great.”

Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka worked out with Otani during the offseason, and according to the New York Post, Tanaka isn’t quite sure how Otani would fare in the majors as a pitcher and designated hitter. 

“I think, in reality, we can’t really say if he can or can’t do it,” Tanaka told the Post through an interpreter. “I know no one is doing that right now in the major leagues, but anything is possible.

“I think it’s about where you draw the line with being successful as both pitcher and a batter. Perhaps it’s not possible to win 20 games and hit 50 home runs, but it’s where you draw that line of being successful. You’ve got to give him a chance – if he’s gonna go about doing it.”

While the money factor is garnering much attention nationally, Tanaka doesn’t believe Japanese players are switching leagues solely for a wage boost. 

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I think a lot of players coming from Japan to play here are not so much about money,’’ said Tanaka, who signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees in 2014. “They just want to come here and go through the challenge. They want to challenge themselves with how well they can play here in the big leagues.”

In 2017, Otani has started just three games (1-2, 6.97 ERA) due to lingering thigh and ankle injuries. But his numbers at the plate are commendable, as he owns a .346/.416/.574 slash line with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBI in 52 games for Hokkaido this season.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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