Posted on December 1, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The most sought-after free agent in baseball this winter is officially eligible to sign with any team. MLB owners voted on Friday and unanimously approved the new posting agreement for Japanese players. As a result, two-way Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani can begin negotiating with major league teams. Ohtani will have three weeks, until 11:59 p.m. on December 22, to sign with a major league club. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s Japanese team, will receive a $20 million posting fee from whatever team signs him.
What makes Ohtani such a special talent is that he’s regarded as both a frontline starting pitcher and middle-of-the-order hitter. A two-way player with his talent is unheard of in today’s game. However, Ohtani intends to play the outfield or serve as a DH on days he doesn’t pitch. His potential to succeed in both roles has all 30 teams eager for the chance to sign him.
Ohtani arrived in the United States earlier this week to begin the process of selecting a team. His representatives have sent a questionnaire to all 30 teams asking them for information about the team’s training facilities, their evaluation of him as both a pitcher and hitter, and how he would be able to assimilate into the organization and city he ultimately chooses.
The unique situation with Ohtani’s salary makes him even more desirable for major league clubs. Since he’s under the age of 25, he can only sign a minor league contract with a team akin to any other international free agent. That means he will have years of pre-arbitration in which he will make a minimal amount of money. He will then have three more years of arbitration before becoming a free agent. Essentially, the team that signs him will get a potential superstar who makes very little money.
Teams will be able to offer Ohtani a signing bonus. However, that bonus is limited to the money each team has in their pool for international spending. The Texas Rangers can offer him the highest signing bonus at just over $3.5 million. The Yankees and Twins are not far behind. Several teams have recently made trades with the intention of increasing their allotment.
However, it’s unclear how much Ohtani values a signing bonus. Had he waited two years until he turned 25, Ohtani would have been treated like any other free agent. He would have likely signed a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ohtani appears to care more about playing in the big leagues and being in a place where he’s comfortable and can compete for a championship than he does earning the most money. This has made it hard for experts to project where he will end up signing.
“I want to go to an environment where I can continue to get better,” Ohtani said recently. “I felt the same way when I graduated from high school. And it is my strongest reason for wanting to go now.”
Right now, many consider the Yankees and Rangers to be the favorites to sign him, in part because they can offer the biggest signing bonus. However, most teams are preparing a pitch they hope will convince Ohtani to sign with them. The Mariners are prepared to use their history with Japanese players as a selling points. The Twins are also quietly confident about their chances to sign Ohtani. The Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, and Giants are also believed to be contenders.
Of course, it’s too early to know where Ohtani may be leading. Most, if not all 30 teams figure to make a serious pitch for his services. At this point, there’s two things we know for sure. First, Ohtani has a lot to consider and a tough decision to make. Second, we’ll know his answer no later than December 22.