After Extensive Negotiation, Japan’s Baseball Superstar Will Join MLB

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by Jake Howry
Shohei Otani from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters [Image Source: Wikimedia user Ship1231]

After a tense negotiation that included a deadline extension, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) superstar Shohei Otani, 23, is set to move to the MLB next season. Likely to sign with a team before the holidays, Otani has already been scouted by more than half of major league teams and his lead agent has asked teams to prepare a written report evaluating how they would use the star player.

Otani is a rare player who can both hit and pitch. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher is widely considered to be the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. Comparisons to Babe Ruth are not uncommon. Last season Otani set a NPB record with a 103-mph fastball, breaking two other records set by him that year. In the same season, he was also league MVP and won the NPB’s home run derby. Otani’s game has been so dominant that NPB officials had to change the rules to make him eligible for the Best Nine Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Silver Slugger.

MLB teams have received huge commercial and community benefits from signing Asian players. The United States and Japan have a long history of player exchanges which have been used to foster relations between cities in the two countries. A new collective bargaining agreement signed in July put a strict international spending cap into place for players under 25. The restrictions make Otani’s posting request a surprise since many teams have already spent their allotted international bonus.

By coming this year instead of waiting until he is 25, Otani is leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table – at most, Otani can receive around $10 million while the Fighters earn a $20 million posting fee. For comparison, Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka — who was neither as young nor as good a hitter as Otani — for more than $150 million in 2014. The Player’s Association expressed concerns about the discrepancy between what Otani and his current team stand to make off the trade.

 Update: Otani has signed with the Los Angeles Angels.

Jake Howry is a research intern at East-West Center in Washington and a master's candidate at Georgetown University