According to Jim Allen of Kyodo News, Shohei Otani, the “Japanese Babe Ruth” for his combined pitching-slugging prowess, wants to leave the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, enter the posting system this winter and play for a major league team in 2018.
There is no question about his readiness for Major League Baseball. Otani, who would be a starting pitcher here, has a 102 mile per hour fastball and routinely sits in the high 90s, profiles as one of the best pitchers in baseball. While his year has been shortened this year due to early season injuries — he’s pitched in only two games, working out the rust — last year he posted a 1.86 ERA, struck out 174 in 140 innings across 21 games . . . and hit .322/.416/.588 with 27 home runs as a designated hitter.
The question for Otani all along was whether he would bother to come to the United States given the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s highly restrictive cap on international signees. Whereas, before this year, Japanese players were essentially free agents, with a large posting fee given to their NPB team, major league clubs’ collective international bonuses are capped at less than $10 million. As Jeff Passan notes in his column, some shuffling and trading of cap space will allow a few teams to give Otani close to $10 million or so, but that’s it. A number of other teams, including the Dodgers and Cubs, face far more restrictive bonus caps given their previous international spending.
All of which means that Otani will not make much money by coming here. He’ll get his few million as a signing bonus but then will be just like any amateur getting called up to a big club: he’ll be under team control for six years, in the first three of which his salary will be set by the big club and will likely not exceed a million dollars. In years 3-6 he’ll be arbitration eligible. After six years — during all of which the big club can manipulate his service time — he’ll be eligible for free agency. Otani is 23 now, so he’ll still be in line for a big free agent deal at some point, but compared to Japanese players who have come to the U.S. in the past, he’ll be working for peanuts.
None of which seems to concern him. He wants to play in the best league in the world, it seems. And even with the financial restrictions in place, it’s hard to blame him.