There was hope last weekend that two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Otani would be on his way to the major leagues after next season, but it may be time to pump the brakes on that optimism. Major league officials met with international scouting directors Tuesday and informed them that there will be no special treatment for Otani under the new collective bargaining agreement, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links). Thus, if the right-handed ace/left-handed hitter’s current team – the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters – does make him available to major league clubs after next season, the international rules included in the CBA will significantly limit his earning power.
As the CBA stipulates – and as Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan details – teams only have between $4.75MM to $5.75MM per year to spend on international free agents who are under 25. They can trade for up to 75 percent more spending room, meaning $8.3MM to $10MM is the most any club would be able to allocate to Otani. Moreover, Otani wouldn’t have the ability to become a major league free agent until he has six years of service time. That further takes away incentive for him to immigrate to the majors until at least after the 2019 season, when he’ll be 25.
Under the prior CBA, international restrictions would have only applied to Otani until he turned 23. His 23rd birthday is next July, meaning he could have been in position to sign a mega-deal a year from now had the previous rules stayed in place.
“Just when Otani was about to come over, they changed the rules” a major league scout who works in Japan told Jim Allen of Kyodo News.
Otani has garnered significant hype as a pitcher, even generating Noah Syndergaard comparisons, thanks in part to a fastball that can touch 102 mph on the radar gun. He dominated in Nippon Professional Baseball last season with a four-pitch mix, recording a 1.86 ERA, 11.2 K/9 and 3.87 K/BB in 140 innings. Otani broke out as a hitter, too, with a stellar .322/.416/.588 line and 22 home runs across 382 plate appearances. As a result, the NPB named him both the best pitcher and top hitter of the 2016 season. Now, to the chagrin of MLB fans, it seems Otani will remain a member of the NPB for at least three more seasons.