In yet another sign that multi-talented Japanese pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Otani intends to jump to play Major League Baseball next year, he has begun interviewing prospective agents.
Japanese outlets reported two weeks ago that Otani is intending to come over, as long suspected. Some have questioned why he would come now rather than wait two more years, when he can become a free agent at age 25, and there has been speculation he could change his mind.
Anything is possible, of course, but the process has begun.
Word is that Otani has been repped by a lawyer in early meetings, and that he and his team will choose from a group of prominent agents, who have begun making the trek to Japan for the meetings. One person familiar with the situation suggested Otani’s team may winnow the agent hopefuls down soon, and begin a second round of interviews within the next week or so.
Big-time agencies Wasserman (led by Joel Wolfe and Adam Katz), Octagon (headed by Alan Nero), The Legacy Agency and the Scott Boras Corporation are believed to be in the early mix and seen as among the favorites, as all have experience repping Japanese stars. Many groups declined comment or ignored messages regarding the process, but other big-time agencies with experiencing repping Japanese stars include Excel (Casey Close), CAA (Brodie Van Wagenen) and John Boggs.
Otani, only 23, is telling folks he wants to play in MLB to test his skills, despite the financial sacrifice a transition now would presumably entail. The CBA disallows international players under age-25 from being free agents, so Otani would be subjected to regular international bonus pool limitations, meaning he’d have to sign a minor-league deal with a bonus no greater than his chosen team’s pool. Teams have between $4.5 million and $5.5 million, plus pool money acquired from others but minus monies committed to other international signees.
The Yankees and Red Sox were reported here to have acquired the most bonus money ($3.25 million) as of a few weeks ago, giving each team $8 million minus what’s been committed elsewhere. So Otani, who could probably get $250 million-plus as an unrestricted free agent, may sign for 1-3 percent of that ($2.5 million to $8 million), then be held to the regular salary limitations of a normal rookie next year. That means he’d be eligible for arbitration in close to three years and free agency in six years. So at 29 he’d be able to hit the jackpot, presumably.
If he does come over, the biggest winners will be the Nippon Ham Fighters, who’ll get the $20-million posting fee, plus the MLB team that signs him, which gets one of the best players in the world for a presumed pittance.
Otani will seek to both hit and pitch for whichever team he chooses, and that team will OK that extraordinary double as he is an extraordinary two-way talent. Pitching is his “calling card,” said one interested MLB executive, but that exec said any signing team would allow Otani to do the unique dual thing. He is said to throw 100 mph with multiple plus breaking balls, but he also has terrific power at bat.
Otani, who could play right field or DH, was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA last year, when he hit .322 with 22 home runs. He has had some minor injuries this year but continues to dominate when he plays.
A parade of teams have come through Japan to scout and try to sway him while he performs for the Fighters this year. Beside the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rangers and Dodgers, two teams that have employed Japanese stars, have been known to make the excursion.
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