Two-way Japanese star Shohei Otani acknowledged “I am not yet a complete player” on Saturday, but he plans to complete that process in the major leagues.
And he hopes to begin doing it next season if possible, though first a new posting system has to be agreed upon by Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.
The pitcher-outfielder, whom the Yankees are expected to make a strong push to sign, made official Saturday what had been reported for months: that he hopes to play for an MLB club in 2018.
“I want to go to an environment where I can continue to get better,” the 23-year-old Otani said during a news conference in Tokyo, according to The Associated Press. “I felt the same way when I graduated from high school. And it is my strongest reason for wanting to go now.”
A report out of Tokyo on Friday said Otani’s team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, has agreed to post him.
“The other day I met with team officials and stated my intentions,” Otani said Saturday. “My request was met with warm words of support, so I hope to do my best in America from next year on.”
The Yankees, who have scouted Otani since his high school days, are considered by more than a few in the industry to be heavy favorites to land Otani.
Hurdles do exist, however.
The old posting system between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, which required a $20-million fee to be paid to the Japanese team of any player making the jump to the big leagues, recently expired.
“I expect that we will reach some sort of agreement with NPB,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday while in New York for Joe Torre’s annual Safe at Home event.
But any agreement must be approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association, which might raise objections.
Because Otani is an international free agent under the age of 25, teams are limited in what they can spend on him and can utilize only what they have in international bonus pool money. According to figures obtained by The Associated Press, the Rangers can offer the most out of their international signing bonus pool, just over $3.5 million, followed by the Yankees ($3.25 million) and the Twins (just over $3.2 million).
According to some executives in the game, however, Otani could land a contract in excess of $150 million as a true free agent. The MLBPA could object to Otani’s getting such a small piece of the pie, especially in light of what his Japanese team will receive as a posting fee.
Still, Otani talked on Saturday like someone headed to the States next season — he discussed a “strong desire” to continue as a two-way player — and has acted like one, too. Earlier in the week, he signed with CAA Sports.
Otani’s situation is likely to be among the headline topics at this week’s general managers’ meetings, which start Monday in Orlando, Florida.
There have been no indications that any of the interested teams — and there are a lot, with the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Dodgers considered the favorites — will stand in the way of Otani’s attempt to hit and pitch.
“I think he has [big-league] potential both ways, to be honest,” one Pacific Rim talent evaluator said. “[But] it’s hard to find a pitching talent like Otani anywhere.”
Otani, currently rehabbing from last month’s ankle surgery, is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings over five seasons with the Ham Fighters. He has a .286/.358/.500 slash line with 48 homers and 166 RBIs in 403 games and 1,035 at-bats in the same timeframe.
“I don’t know if it will be possible, but I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available,” Otani said Saturday of being a two-way player. “Until that process has started, I can’t say how it might work out.”