New rule could prevent Shohei Otani from coming to MLB until 2019

Major League Baseball and the players union coming together on a new collective-bargaining agreement prior to Thursday’s deadline elicited a positive response from baseball fans. Why wouldn’t that be the case? Of course fans were going to be happy baseball would be played in 2017.

Now that more details have emerged, many are trying to figure out how the game will change. Some changes, like the smokeless tobacco ban, will have a positive impact on the game. Others, like the new qualifying offer system, may not be fully understood until we see it in action.

Throughout all of this, however, one detail emerged from negotiations that comes off as overwhelmingly negative for the game. As a result of new international signing rules, Nippon-Ham Fighters superstar Shohei Otani probably won’t be coming to the majors until at least 2019.

Under the new CBA, teams are limited to spending $5 million on international free agents each year. Teams are not allowed to go over this limit unless the international player they sign is 25 or older.

So, in Otani’s case, that leads to the following situation:

If the 22-year-old Otani chooses to leave Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) before he turns 25, he will only make about $5 million on the market. You’ll notice Jeff Passan’s tweet indicates he could make around $6 million, that’s because teams can trade and acquire a portion of other club’s international spending money. Still, that pales in comparison to what Otani would make if those rules weren’t in place. Passan isn’t the only person who has mentioned a contract in excess of $200 million when it comes to Otani.

Because of that, it’s pretty likely Otani will remain in NPB until 2019, when he would finally be eligible to receive a big contract.

Though, as Passan notes, it’s possible amendments can be made to the CBA to allow Otani to come over sooner.

It’s unclear how likely that possibility is at this time, and whether it would be a slippery slope for other talented players hoping to come over to MLB.

Now, maybe you’re sitting at home thinking “who cares,” or “I’ve never even heard of this guy, what’s so special about him.” Well, Shohei Otani is easily one of the most exciting professional baseball players in the world right now, and his conversation to MLB would be one of the most fascinating stories to hit the league in a long time.

Shohei Otani excelled as both a pitcher and hitter in 2016. (Getty Images/Masterpress)
Shohei Otani excelled as both a pitcher and hitter in 2016. (Getty Images/Masterpress)

You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned Otani’s position just yet. There’s a reason for that. Up until this year, Otani was seen as a superstar caliber pitcher for the Fighters. He led the league in ERA in 2015, and his velocity broke NPB records.

Then, 2016 changed everything. Otani had shown promise with the bat early in his career, but got a shot to play both ways in 2016. As the Fighters’ designated hitter, he hit an incredible .322/.416/.522, with 22 home runs, over 382 plate appearances. Otani even won the Home Run Derby. His performance earned him the award for best DH in NPB.

On top of all that, he posted a 1.86 ERA over 140 innings, struck out 174 batters and won the award for best pitcher in NPB.

You read that right, Otani was both the best pitcher and the best DH in NPB this season. That’s amazing.

Shohei Otani could be MLB's first two-way player since Babe Ruth. (Getty Images/Masterpress)
Shohei Otani could be MLB’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth. (Getty Images/Masterpress)

Now, here’s the exciting part. Scouts believe those skills will translate to MLB. When Otani comes over, he’ll have to decide whether he wants to be a pitcher or a hitter. Or, and this would be awesome, he could play some type of weird, hybrid role the league hasn’t seen since the days of Babe Ruth. If you can’t get excited about that, we don’t know what to tell you.

That’s why this whole thing stinks. Due to the new rule, Otani has zero incentive to play in MLB until at least 2019. Fans have now been robbed of the chance to see one of the game’s most exciting players show off his skills at the highest level as a consequence of this new rule. In no way is that good for the game.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik