Japanese star pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani has long been on the radar as one of the most talented players on the planet who isn’t already with a MLB organization. He stoked expectations before the season that he might ask his current team — the Nippon Ham Fighters — to make him available to major league clubs through the posting system. Now, reports out of Japan tonight suggest that’s just what will occur (see, e.g., here).
Of course, given the indications given by Otani himself earlier this year, that news doesn’t come as a major surprise. Indeed, the expectation among major league teams has remained that Otani would become available, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney recently reported.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that nothing is yet official, though the reports seemingly indicate that Otani has already made his wishes clear with club officials. We learned earlier this year that the Nippon Ham organization had largely committed to granting Otani his wish to leave for the majors whenever he requested it, even though the club can’t receive more than $20MM as a transfer fee and could have maintained control over the fascinating talent for a few more years under Nippon Professional Baseball’s system. That $20MM sum may change, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports, though he adds that the posting process is expected to continue operating in essentially the same manner — allowing any teams that are willing to pay the maximum fee to negotiate with the player.
Though Otani has not pitched much this year due to injury, perhaps that won’t have much of an impact. For one thing, he is considered an immense talent; if you’re interested in learning more about his projected abilities in the majors, be sure to check out this outstanding post from MLBTR contributor Chuck Wasserstrom. Further, the Japanese star isn’t really going to be looking for top dollar. At 23 years of age, he’s still two years shy of breaking free of the hard international signing limitations found in the new collective bargaining agreement, which effectively caps his potential bonus in the seven-figure range — a laughably small sum for a player who’d surely command nine figures were he available in a free market.
Otani, though, made clear in his prior comments that salary isn’t his chief consideration in pondering a move to the majors. Passan notes that MLB intends to be vigilant in enforcing the rules and will scrutinize any efforts to skirt them. Instead, he’ll weigh other factors, including his evident desire not only to pitch (where he’s considered most talented) but also to see action as a hitter. That’s not to say money won’t enter the equation at all; Otani’s precise approach remains to be seen. Notably, some teams will be able to offer quite a bit more money than others, with some capped at a meager $300K as a penalty under the prior system. And surely organizations will have different ideas on how they can help Otani earn more from endorsements and other sources. Regardless, as I wrote back in April, this sets up a fascinating potential market situation:
Should Otani become available, however, it would likely make for an unprecedented effort by major league organizations to woo him. That’s due not only to his unusual dual capabilities (and wishes), but also his young age and the unique circumstances of the rules limiting what he can be paid. Literally every team in the game would have cause to pursue him vigorously, particularly if the financial commitment is as meager as it seemingly must be.
That all remains true today, even as many of the league’s teams have begun sending emissaries over to Japan — in many cases, top baseball operations decisionmakers — to begin the unusual recruitment process. Any comparably talented young player would require a top draft choice or immense trade return to acquire. But for Otani — who, it’s worth bearing in mind, is considered ready to step directly into a major league rotation — a team need only be willing to pay the $20MM posting fee and whatever sum of international spending money it has available. Simply put, Otani could represent the most unique opportunity in contemporary hot stove history.