Shohei Otani, the now 22 year old Japanese phenom who can both hit and pitch extremely effectively (or the modern day Babe Ruth) has expressed interest coming to the majors in 2018 prior to the new CBA agreement on December 2nd. If the Nippon Ham Fighters do in fact post him next off-season, then he will be subject to the new CBA regarding international amateur free agents. The new CBA states that international players below the age of 25 are restricted to a team’s international bonus pool. The old CBA’s cutoff for age was 23, hence why Otani wanted to wait until 2018. This means that teams will only be able to sign Otani for a maximum of $4.75m – $5.75m depending on the team’s cap bracket. This of course includes debits or credits to the pool if they have already signed other players during the term or have traded to receive additional cap from another team. This small detail is very important because typically the posting fee starts off at $20m.
You may be wondering at this point when Otani becomes a free agent. Well the NPB is a lot more restrictive than the MLB on this matter. It takes 8 years of service to reach domestic free agency and 9 years of service to reach unrestricted free agency. I don’t believe teams are going to be looking to wait around until 2022 to spend big on Otani. This means that teams and the Ham Fighters will have to wait until Otani turns 25 on July 5th during the 2019 season to post him for MLB teams to fight over. Now Otani has mentioned, he is seeking to play baseball at the highest level, and not so much worried about the money. That is great, but the main concern for the Ham Fighters is that they get healthy portion of money. Seeing how this is the case we could see a huge posting fee possibly eclipse that of Yu Darvish, where Otani is then signed to a similar contract or possibly even more modest than that of Yu.
Yu has some very encouraging words for Otani, mentioning that “He’s the type of person who really prepares well every time, that’s why he’ll be able to fix things.” Jeff Passan states that they “are close. Workout partners. Darvish mentors him on conditioning. Otani looks up to Darvish.”
I wish at this point Otani had some free will, as the Rangers could leverage this relationship to bring in another high caliber pitcher and focus on extending Yu to a deserving contract. That is not the case, but I believe the posting fee will be the largest we have seen to date, and Otani will settle for a modest contract compared to his extremely high skill level. The Rangers could opt out of Cole Hamels for 2019, which could free money up for Otani, or his option could vest automatically, at which point the Rangers would potentially want to hang onto Hamels anyways. Yahoo! expects MLB to address Otani’s situation and possibly even amend or make an exception for him to circumvent the new CBA’s restriction on his age. Eitherway, it will be interesting to see how Otani’s situation plays out.