Major League Baseball has been around for a long time, but it’s
never seen a player quite like Shohei Otani.
The Japanese phenom, currently playing for the Nippon Ham
Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball, is the definition of a
two-way player. In five professional seasons, he’s
posted a .286/.359/.505 slash line and a 2.77 ERA in
just under 500 innings, earning three All-Star appearances and
the 2016 Pacific League MVP award along the way.
Now, Otani has his eye on the ultimate destination for
professional baseball: North America.
According to Jim Allen
of Kyodo News, sources say that Otani wants to join up with
an MLB team for the 2018 season. If he follows through on that
desire, the Iwate native will immediately become one of the most
compelling figures of the offseason, as just about every team
would love to have his services.
This is far from the first time a Japanese superstar has
considered a move to the US, but Otani’s case is unique because
of his incredible talent and young age. Under MLB’s new
collective bargaining agreement, international players must be at
least 25 years old to escape the league’s restrictive rules for
amateur free agent signings, up from 23 under the old agreement.
While Otani will be able to sign a long-term extension for a
hefty sum once he reaches the major leagues, MLB has
said that it will not tolerate
handshake deals that promise future salary. He’ll have to settle
for a signing bonus that could range from $300,000 to $10
million, a huge drop from the $300 million contract some
estimates say he would have gotten under the old rules.
Otani could hone his craft in Japan and sign a massive deal once
he turns 25, but for him, it’s not the compensation that
makes MLB so attractive – it’s the level of
“He doesn’t care about money. It’s not about the money,” fighters
executive Toshimasa Shimada said, according to Allen.
MLB has seen some talented two-way players in the past, but Otani
would be a unique player in major league history. As good as Babe
Ruth was in his Red Sox days, he couldn’t touch 100 miles per
hour with his fastball.
All of this could lead to a fierce bidding war. Scouts agree that
Otani has what it takes to be a generational player, and while
the team that acquires him will need to pay a steep $20
million posting fee in addition to the bonus, it seems he’d be a
worthwhile investment for all 30 clubs.
But while most see Otani’s MLB future as being on the mound, the
club that gets him will need to tolerate his desire for regular
at bats. Indeed, his two-way status could become a deciding
factor in the negotiations.
“If I were to focus on one or the other, there’s no guarantee I’d
be better at it,” Otani told Kyodo News back in February. “Of
course, I don’t know the ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ should I focus on
Wherever he ends up playing, it seems that this is just the
beginning for the versatile Otani. He’ll make a decision for 2018
after the conclusion of the NPB season in October.