Shohei Otani is the most exciting international prospect in years.
The Japanese star is a double threat, with success as both a pitcher and an outfielder playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters. As a batter, he’s hitting .346/.416/.574 this season. Given that he’s only hit in 51 games one might balk at the small sample size, except his 2016 numbers in 104 games were .322/.416/.588. His 2016 OPS was 1.004.
His pitching hasn’t yet been as strong this season, as a result of an injury, but looking at his overall numbers across five seasons, he has a 2.60 ERA, and a 1.078 WHIP (with the past two seasons both being under 1.000). His fastball has touched 102 miles per hour.
At age 23, Otani looks to only get better. There’s a reason he is so exciting for MLB teams, because given the right location, he could be one of the greatest pure talents to come along in ages. The rare ability to be both a power hitter and a strong pitcher all but unheard of at the major league level.
What makes Otani especially appealing for the American market is how cheap he will come for the expected results he will achieve. Because of the limits on how much Otani can be paid as an international signing, no team is truly out of the running. While it is likely that Otani will want to sign in a larger market, even the teams with the smallest workable payrolls have a shot at signing him.
Indeed, Otani’s decision to move to the MLB now, at 23, is fascinating, because if he waited until he was 25, he could earn upwards of $200 million. Instead, the international player signing restrictions dictated by the new collective bargaining agreement limits teams to trading only 75 percent of their bonus-pool. So, at most, a team like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees can only spend $8.3 million (both have acquired additional bonus pool money).
In fact, due to spending limitations, several of the teams that would seem the most logical homes for Otani at limited to spending a mere $300,000 on a deal: the Dodgers, Cubs, Padres, and Astros all fall into this category.
The bonus-pool effectively acts as Otani’s signing bonus. After the Fighting Hams post Otani, there will be a flat fee for a posting fee that a team will pay to the Japanese team. At that point Otani is free to pick the team of his choice, and he may then choose to accept less of a signing bonus in order to land with a preferred team. Since it appears money is not Otani’s primary interest in moving to the MLB — which is especially obvious given his choice to move over two years early — it stands to reason he may ignore a large bonus in order to sign with a team he prefers.
Otani is likely ready for the majors as-is, with little-to-no need for fine tuning in a farm system. That kind of talent ready to be transplanted right into a starting lineup next year is going to be incredibly compelling, and many teams are already sending scouts and those with financial decision-making powers to Japan in order to woo and view the future star.
What we’re likely to see when Otani does sign with a major league team is a short, two-year deal, that will allow him a chance at a $200 million or more payday when he reaches free agency at age 25.
No matter where he lands, the whole baseball world will be watching with excitement to see if he can live up to the expectations when he starts his MLB career.