Posted on November 10, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The biggest baseball star in Japan, Shohei Otani, is one step closer to playing in the big leagues. According to reports out of Japan, Otani’s team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, have decided to fulfill his wish and make him available to major league teams through the posting system. Things are not yet official, but all signs point to Otani being a major leaguer by spring training.
The move has been complicated because the old posting system for players like Otani expired at the end of October. However, MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball are negotiating a way to use the old posting system to get Otani to the majors. The two sides appear to have a tentative agreement in place to allow Otani to become an international free agent.
In all likelihood, there will be a maximum posting fee of $20 million. Once Otani is officially posted, teams will have four days to decided whether or not to bid $20 million for the right to negotiate a contract with him. With Otani being such a sought-after player, nearly every team in baseball will likely put up $20 million for the chance to sign him.
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The other caveat with Otani is his age. Since he’s under the age of 25, he’s still considered an amateur player, not a professional. As a result, he will technically sign a minor league contract with a team. He will receive a signing bonus, as all amateur players do. But he will also go through pre-arbitration years and then arbitration years before becoming a free agent again.
Teams can only offer Otani a signing bonus based on how much money they have in their pool for international signings. The Texas Rangers are able to offer him the most money at around $3.5 million. The Yankees and Twins can also offer him more than $3.2 million in bonus.
If the 23-year old Otani were to wait until he turns 25 to come to the big leagues, he would receive a much higher bonus. On top of that, Otani will also make the major league minimum early in his career until he hits arbitration, further enticing teams to take a chance on signing him. However, the fact that he wants to come to the majors right now indicates that he’s interested in more than money.
It’s unclear what exactly Otani is looking for in a major league organization. Between that uncertainty and his unusual skill set, a majority of teams could be persuaded to post $20 million for the chance to sign him.
Otani is a rare two-way player who is both an accomplished hitter and pitcher in Japan. Last season, he posted a 3.20 ERA as a pitcher and hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games as a pitcher. He’s currently rehabbing from an ankle injury, although that’s unlikely to prevent teams from pursuing his services.
Once he’s officially posted, Otani will quickly become the top free agent available. Between his abilities as both a pitcher and a hitter and the fact that he won’t make much money early in his career, his value will be off the charts. It’s still unclear when Otani will be posted and how soon he’ll be able to sign with a team. But when he eventually chooses his big league destination, he will make one team very lucky.