Japanese star Shohei Ohtani to play in MLB next season after union agrees to new posting system

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist
Shohei Ohtani pitches during the Nippon Ham Fighters’ spring camp in Peoria, Arizona. (AP)

The Major League Baseball Players Association authorized the agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball on a new posting system Monday, allowing two-way star Shohei Ohtani to join a major league team this winter and play in the big leagues in 2018, a source familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports.

The MLBPA had blanched at a number of details in the deal, which is complicated by the current collective bargaining agreement limiting the amount of money teams can pay the 23-year-old Ohtani. The union nevertheless went forward with the agreement that will run through 2021, avoiding the embarrassment of possibly delaying the arrival of the 102-mph-throwing, home-run-hitting Ohtani despite his desire to play in MLB.

Once Ohtani is posted, likely sometime within the next two weeks, he will be eligible to sign with all 30 teams. Because the new CBA limits players under 25 years old to signing minor league deals as international free agents, and spending on such players is limited, the maximum bonus he can receive is $3.535 million from the Texas Rangers. Only six teams have at least $1 million to offer Ohtani.

When Ohtani chooses a team, it will pay a $20 million posting fee to Ohtani’s NPB team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. That figure was grandfathered from the previous posting agreement; in the future, Japanese teams will receive posting fees on a sliding scale, with 20 percent for contracts under $25 million, 17.5 percent on deals from $25 million to $50 million and 15 percent for bonuses above $50 million. Other issues expected to potentially affect future agreements bothered the union enough that it raised objections before ratifying the proposal.

Among the problems that were solved in the multilateral discussions among the MLBPA, MLB and NPB:

• A shortened posting period. Rather than let posting drag through January, as the original agreement called for, the union preferred a two-week posting window starting Nov. 1, followed by a month-long bidding process, so as not to imperil the free-agent market – as Ohtani is doing at the moment. The sides settled on a posting period of Nov. 1 through Dec. 5.

• The ability for the Japanese team to pull back a player from the system if the deal a player agrees to is deemed unsatisfactory. The addition of the sliding scale eliminated this from the proposal.

• The fervor for Ohtani is sure to kick into high gear now, as he begins shopping for his new team. While teams would prefer he focus on pitching, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ohtani is also a dangerous left-handed hitter, with legitimate power and a desire to hit in the major leagues as well.

Whether that’s realistic remains to be seen, though multiple executives with interest in Ohtani told Yahoo Sports that if playing both ways is seen as a prerequisite to signing him, they will happily oblige. The bargain Ohtani presents simply is too good not to bend over backward accordingly. Were he to wait two years and be exempted from the international rules, Ohtani could command a contract in the $200 million range.

The fear inside MLB and NPB was that the union preferred Ohtani stay in Japan for 2018 and potentially convince him not to post in 2019, either, delaying his arrival until past his 25th birthday, when he would not fall under international bonus-pool restrictions and potentially reap a contract that ran upward of $200 million.

With that no longer a possibility, MLB officials said the league plans on being diligent in trying to prevent any under-the-table dealings that promise extra money to Ohtani. He could sign a long-term extension at any time, though the league almost certainly would fight any deal that does not hew to past deals for players with little major league service time.

On a minor league deal, Ohtani would make the minimum of $545,000 this season. He has indicated, both to agents who tried to sign him as a client and other parties in the game who have tried to ingratiate themselves, that money is not a concern to him and he wants to go against the best players in the world after five seasons in Japan, during which he went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 624 in 543 innings.

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