TOKYO — Shohei Otani is likely to leave Japan and sign with a Major League Baseball team after this season, multiple reports in Japanese media said Wednesday, a move that would cost the 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder more than $100 million.
In his fifth season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the reigning Pacific League MVP is prized as both a pitcher and hitter. But under restrictions in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, his signing bonus would be limited to about $3 million to $4 million, a fraction of the $155 million, seven-year deal that pitcher Masahiro Tanaka received from the New York Yankees before the 2014 season. Otani would have to wait until after the 2019 season to receive a comparable deal in MLB.
“I think he wants to compete against the best, and I think that’s great,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I think that’s what’s in every competitor’s heart. They want to match up against the best to see how they fare.”
Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell led a major league tour in Japan in 2014.
“He’s an impressive player,” Farrell said. “I didn’t see him hit, but obviously the numbers beyond 2014 are very impressive. A unique talent — no doubt about it. To be able to throw a baseball and pitch like he can — and swing a bat like he can — I’m sure it has grabbed the attention on every team with his potential.”
Under the MLB labor contract agreed to last November, Otani is defined as an international amateur because he is not 25 and does not have six years of service in any professional leagues. Because of that, he must sign a minor league contract to enter MLB, an amount subject to a team’s signing bonus pool.
MLB teams are prohibited from circumventing the restrictions, such as with an unannounced agreement for future seasons, and would receive harsh punishment if caught by the commissioner’s office. Because of that, Otani has economic incentive to wait two years before leaving for MLB. He would then be considered a professional.
If Otani is made available under the posting system agreement between MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball, the maximum a team could bid is $20 million, and if the $20 million is accepted, all teams bidding that amount would be eligible to sign him.
In the signing period that began July 2, 12 teams are prohibited from giving signing bonuses of more than $300,000 as penalties for exceeding their bonus pools under the previous labor deal: Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox,…