With the World Series in the rearview, it’s free agent time in baseball. And there’s just one free agent this offseason that will command everyone’s attention: the elite pitching and slugging Japanese superstar Shohei Otani. Back in September, reports out of Japan said that Otani would leave the country and enter the posting system to play in the US. And according to Dylan Hernandez at the Los Angeles Times, Otani is one step closer to doing just that: he’s reportedly hired an agent in the U.S.
A two-way player who throws 100-mph fastballs and launches 500-foot home runs, Ohtani has chosen CAA Sports to represent him in the United States, according to multiple people familiar with the situation who spoke under the condition of anonymity. Los Angeles-based Nez Balelo will be Ohtani’s lead agent.
That’s certainly not the final step in the process, but it’s an important one. Like every player, Otani needs someone to negotiate on his behalf, and teams need someone to negotiate with. The Los Angeles Times reported that it’s Nez Balelo of CAA, who has the right experience — he represents Japanese players Nori Aoki and Junichi Tazawa, as well as Adam Jones and Andre Ethier.
Just because Otani has hired an agent doesn’t mean that teams can start courting him immediately. Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Major League Baseball, and the MLB Players Association will need to agree on the rules for a new posting system, as the old rules expired last week. But one quote from the Los Angeles Times article makes it seem like Otani is chomping at the bit to get started.
“Once that is completed, he has every intention to come to the States this coming season,” one person familiar the situation said.
If that doesn’t give you shivers, then you probably haven’t watched any of Otani’s many NPB highlights. I suggest you start with this video of every hit and every strikeout from Otani’s 2016 season.
While Otani had previously said that he wanted to come and play in the U.S., it wasn’t a sure thing. Beyond the fact that he didn’t have an agent (until recently), the 2016 collective bargaining agreement put a severe limit on the money he would get if he chose to come over. Otani is just 23, and the CBA states that players under the age of 25 are international amateurs and have to sign a standard minor league contract. That means his bonus would be limited to $4 million at most, and teams who have gone over their international spending limit in the past (like the Los Angeles Dodgers) would only be able to offer him a fraction of that.
If Otani waited to come to the U.S. for two years, when he would be 25, he could get a blockbuster deal like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. By coming over now, he’s costing himself millions of dollars. But it doesn’t seem like money’s on his mind. Otani wants to play in the MLB, and the new rules governing compensation for international players aren’t going to stop him.
Buckle up, everyone. With Otani on the market, it’s going to be a fascinating offseason.
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