The pieces are falling into place for Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani to play in the United States in 2018.
Kyodo News reported on Friday morning that 23-year-old Otani, known as the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” will officially be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. This is the key that unlocks Major League Baseball for Otani, because without his team’s consent he wouldn’t be able to be signed by an MLB team.
— スポニチ野球記者 (@SponichiYakyu) November 10, 2017
Nippon Ham's owner (left), with manager Hideki Kuriyama, officially announce intention to allow Shohei Otani to head to MLB https://t.co/kpMJmaxJK4
— Jason Coskrey (@JCoskrey) November 10, 2017
Despite losing one of the most extraordinary stars to ever play in Nippon Professional Baseball, everyone on the Fighters is supportive of Otani’s desire to play in the U.S., including Otani’s manager.
“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama told a press conference at a Tokyo hotel concerning the 23-year-old two-way player’s intention to move to the big leagues.
What happens from here as far as the posting system hasn’t been officially announced yet. But Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported on Wednesday that MLB and NPB had agreed to use the same posting system regulations that had expired last month. It’s the same system that was used when Yu Darvish came to the United States, in which teams post a lump sum of up to $20 million for the privilege of getting an exclusive 30-day window to negotiate with Otani.
Though they’re using the old regulations, new ones were nearly agreed upon several weeks ago. According to Sherman, MLB and NPB were one vote away from putting new rules in place. Those rules wold have eliminated the lump sum, and instead teams would get a percentage of the player’s final contract amount. (Sherman reported that it would have been 15-20%.) Those rules reportedly failed to be ratified due to one dissenting vote — from Otani’s team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.
The Fighters are the team that stood to lose the most from the aborted new system, and that’s due to the 2016 collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players association, which changed the rules governing international players under the age of 25. In the CBA, all international players under the age of 25 are considered amateurs and are therefore required to sign a minor league contract, which is exponentially smaller than the contract a free agent can get. For Otani to get any additional money, teams will have to draw from their international bonus pool, which means they’re limited to just $4 million. The Fighters would have gotten 15-20% of a much smaller contract amount.
So the Fighters pushed to use to old posting system, and have reportedly gotten their wish. Instead of getting 15-20% of a $300,000 contract for Otani, they’ll get a lump sum of $20 million. But that stands in stark contrast to what Otani will get. Without the rules in the CBA, Otani could command a Masahiro Tanaka-sized contract. But with them, he’ll be getting just a fraction of what he’s worth while his former team walks away with millions.
Even though MLB Players Association agreed to rules that give the short shrift to future members of their union, it holds one possible trump card. As part of the CBA, it can essentially cancel any player transfer between MLB and Japan (or Cuba or Mexico). There’s no indication whether the PA intends to do this or not, but it has reportedly been concerned that the Fighters will be getting so much more money than Otani will for signing in the United States.
While the MLBPA is concerned, Otani doesn’t seem to be. He’s coming to the U.S. to play baseball, and it looks like he’s going to get the chance to do that. Now the real intrigue can begin: where will Otani sign?!
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