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Shohei Ohtani, the biggest bargain in MLB free agency, is out of Marlins’ price range

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Team makes shortsighted decision to not even compete in the Ohtani sweepstakes.

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 12:  Shohei Ohtani #16 of Japan celebrates after hitting a solo homer in the fifth inning during the international friendly match between Japan and Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome on November 12, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images) Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

It would have been challenging for the Miami Marlins to convince two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani to sign with them. Other MLB teams could offer him a richer signing bonus, a clearer path to postseason contention, a larger fan base and a more recognizable brand.

However, we can’t pretend to understand exactly what Ohtani wants. He is an unprecedented free-agent case, with talent worthy of a nine-figure contract, but without the leverage to negotiate a big payday. There are strict constraints placed on the 23-year-old by the latest collective bargaining agreement. The most significant expense is a $20 million release fee owed to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (his former team) once he finalizes an MLB deal.

According to Tim Healey of the Sun Sentinel, that modest upfront cost has scared the Marlins away from pursuing Ohtani. After the previous Marlins regime spent years operating the franchise in the red, new ownership is preaching a frugal approach heading into 2018.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26:  Derek Jeter speaks onstage for Derek Jeter On Finding Professional Fulfillment After The Dream Career Featuring Derek Jeter, Founder, The Players' Tribune, And Jeff Levick, CEO, The Players' Tribune during Fast Company Innovation Festival at 92nd Street Y on October 26, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company)
CEO Derek Jeter has explored every avenue for cutting costs since beginning his new gig this offseason.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company

But the irony of that is, signing Ohtani would be extremely cost-efficient over the long haul! He’ll take home a league-minimum salary for the first three seasons due to a lack of MLB service time, then remain under club control via arbitration for at least three more seasons beyond that.

There’s no excuse for passing on this opportunity. Ohtani’s upside as a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and impactful offensive player is so tantalizing, and it could be years until another player with his rare skill set becomes available.

And yet, while most franchises have hounded Ohtani with the depravity of a college coach wooing a recruit, the Marlins never even feigned interest. Nobody within the organization traveled to Japan this season to watch the superstar perform in person. It’s still unclear whether or not they bothered filling out the notorious “questionnaire,” as requested by his representatives. To borrow a couple of Healey’s metaphors, “Miami is not buying a lotto ticket. Miami is not running out this ground ball.”

To reiterate, the Fish were long shots to sign Ohtani under any circumstances. The concern here is that showing such indifference toward a young, cheap, transcendent talent foreshadows a frustrating offseason ahead.

They have reportedly prioritized salary relief above all else in exploring a trade of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. If the sharply discounted Ohtani is out of the club’s price range, then all other major league free agents—seeking to sign for their actual market value—presumably are, too.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has looked for creative ways to limit expenditure and maximize profitability. The essential mission of ownership is balancing that goal with a player acquisition and development strategy. So far, we’re only seeing half the vision. Batting .500 is great for a player, but Jeter’s now in a much tougher arena that requires near-perfect execution to be considered successful.