The 2016 Major League Baseball offseason may feature a weaker class than normal, but the 2017 offseason is already shaping up to be exciting. Japanese superstar Shohei Otani has expressed interest in coming over to MLB, and would like to do so before the start of the 2018 season, according to Kyodo News.
That should immediately excite anyone who has heard of Otani before now. The 22-year-old has completely dominated Nippon Professional Baseball over the past three seasons. After standing out as a pitcher in his first two years, Otani played more of a two-way role in 2016.
Turns out, he can hit. Otani posted a .322/.416/.588 slash line, with 22 home runs, over 382 plate appearances. In his first season taking on a larger hitting role, he also won the NPB’s home run derby. That performance earned him the award for best DH in the NPB at the end of the year.
He was no slouch on the mound, either. Otani had a 1.86 ERA over 140 innings. He struck out 174 batters, earning the award for best pitcher in the NPB at the end of the year.
Yes, he won the awards for best pitcher and best DH in NPB last season. He’s just 22. He’s one of the most exciting young players in professional baseball.
Now, here’s where things get complicated. Due to a new rule in the collective-bargaining agreement, Otani would only be eligible to make around $5 million if he comes over next offseason.
Otani’s Japanese team plans to post him after this season, but as an under-25 player he would be subject to int’l bonus pool.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2016
The rule limits clubs from spending more than $5 million on international free agents per season. Teams can trade for more cash, but even in that scenario, Otani would only be able to make around $10 million if he is posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2017. If Otani were not subject to those rules, some believe he would make $200 million on the market.
Under the new CBA, Otani would not be subject to that rule once he turns 25. That won’t happen until 2019, though, meaning Otani would have to wait until then in order to receive a massive contract.
With that said, there’s some evidence MLB may tweak the rule for a player as talented as Otani. Our own Jeff Passan says executives have already discussed ways to skirt around the rule for Otani.
Sources told Yahoo Sports this week that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 5, 2016
It’s also possible the league will make tweaks to the current rule in order to make an exception for Otani.
Could be via amendments to CBA from new posting agreement with Japan or other levers. Point is: Otani is a player worthy of tweaking rules.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 1, 2016
It’s unclear exactly what those tweaks would entail at this time.
After owners fought to limit international spending, it might seem counterproductive for them to alter the rule to allow Otani to get paid. But for a player as talented as Otani, it makes sense. Owners, particularly those who run teams with a lot of money, want Otani to come over sooner rather than later. He can help their clubs win a championship now. Making him wait until 2019 to come over doesn’t help anyone. The cost will be high, but the talent is undeniable.
Many details still need to be sorted out, but it appears things are moving in a positive direction. Otani wants to come over, and MLB seems willing to work out a compromise to allow him to get paid. Considering his talent, and his potential two-way ability, that seems like the best case scenario for everyone involved, especially the fans who want to see what Otani can do on baseball’s biggest stage.
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