Japanese star looks to make splash in MLB

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Shohei Otani #16 of Japan throws in the top of fifth inning during the WBSC Premier 12 semi final match between South Korea and Japan at the Tokyo Dome on November 19, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)

JAPAN– News broke late last week that Japanese star baseball player, Shohei Otani, will be posted this off season, allowing an MLB team to pay a fee and negotiate a contract with him.

Otani, 23, has been highly touted as an extraordinary talent for years while both pitching and playing some outfield for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Otani won Pacific League MVP in 2016 as a 21-year-old, a year in which he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs. On the mound, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and struck out 174 batters in 140 innings.

However, injuries slowed Otani in 2017, who only started five games on the mound with a 3.20 ERA. He struck out 29 batters in 25 innings. At the plate, Otani hit 8 home runs with 31 RBIs while hitting .332.

In a total of five seasons, he has a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings, and a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 RBI.

Despite an injury-plagued 2017 season, Otani is expected to command the maximum $20 million posting fee that will go to the Nippon Ham Fighters before being able to negotiate with a Major League team.

It is widely expected that most teams will offer to pay that fee for the rights to negotiate with Otani.

However, under MLB’s labor contract, his signing bonus is restricted and remaining pool money is limited to a high of $3,535,000.

According to ESPN, under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, Otani can only agree to a minor league contract that is subject to signing bonus pools. If added to a big league roster, he would have a salary for about the minimum $545,000 next season and not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest.

If Otani were to wait until he was 25, there would be no restrictions, but he has made it clear that he is ready to go to the Major Leagues now than wait.

Another complicating factor is Otani’s desire to continue to both hit and pitch in the Major Leagues.

At a recent news conference, Otani said, “I don’t know if it will be possible, but I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available. Until that process has started, I can’t say how it might work out.”

There has been some speculation that Otani would fit best with an American League team, who could offer him the opportunity to pitch every fifth day and get in the lineup as a designated hitter for some games in between.

Reportedly, the Texas Rangers have been curbing international spending for the past few seasons in order to gear up for a run at Otani.

However, there are a number of things the Japanese player will look for in a new team, including their past with Japanese players and whether they are currently built to contend.

The majority of recent postings have occurred in November or early December, with contract agreements coming about a month after that.