Japanese two-way superstar: 'It's not just about what I want to do'
By Oliver Macklin
International superstar Shohei Ohtani has been a force both on the mound and at the plate in five seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League.
Ohtani possesses one of the more unique and unprecedented skill sets among any player in baseball history, and during a news conference held in Tokyo on Saturday, the 23-year-old expressed his desire to discuss his future role with Major League Baseball teams pursuing his services this offseason.
"I don't know if I'll be given the chance to be able to do it, so first of all, I'll have to listen to what they say," Ohtani told reporters in regards to whether he will be a two-way player in MLB. "You can't go after something like that unless you're in the right circumstance. It's not just about what I want to do."
With the news dropping Friday morning that the Nippon-Ham Fighters will post their star player in the coming weeks, the question now turns to how exactly will Ohtani's transition to MLB take place.
While expected, the move was a significant stepping stone in the process for Ohtani to make the leap to professional baseball in the United States.
Ohtani has chosen Creative Artists Agency, a Los Angeles-based group that also represents Japanese players Norichika Aoki and Junichi Tazawa, and his representatives are scheduled to meet with the MLB Players Association in the next few days, per MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Though neither side has commented on the meetings, Morosi expects the two parties to begin to piece together a new posting agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball (the old agreement between the two organizations expired on Oct. 31).
Morosi has reported sources involved in the talks are "optimistic" Ohtani's situation could help pave the way for future players who make the move from Japan to MLB. But until MLB and NPB reach a new posting agreement, there is no procedure for Ohtani's former club to make him available to big league teams.
MLB Network Insider Joel Sherman first reported negotiations stalled on the notion that Japanese clubs should be compensated when MLB teams sign their players through the posting process. Under the old system, MLB clubs paid Japanese teams a release fee of up to $20 million.
MLB and NPB had made headway on a new pact that would involve the NPB club receiving a percentage of the player's guaranteed contract. The Fighters have withheld their support for that concept, however, because Ohtani is likely to sign a deal valued less than $5 million -- and potentially less than $1 million -- because of bonus limitations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on international players under 25 years old.
As of right now, Ohtani is only able to agree to a Minor League deal as stated by MLB's signing bonus pool rules. Joining an MLB roster would net him a league minimum deal for a player -- approximately $545,000 -- but he would also receive a signing bonus (the Rangers can offer him the largest with $3,535,000 remaining in pool money this year).
Ohtani is no ordinary case. He went 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings as a hurler and hit .286 with 48 home runs and 166 RBIs in 1,035 at-bats over five seasons in Japan. He also appeared in 62 games as an outfielder.
He was named the Pacific League Most Valuable Player in 2016 and was voted to the league's "Best Nine" at season's end as both a pitcher and designated hitter. Will he be able to give both a shot in the big leagues? He's not quite sure, but he seems open to the idea of focusing in on one depending on what MLB teams think is best.
"The one thing I can say is, when I graduated from high school, there were very few people who supported it," Ohtani said. "Now there are a lot more, including manager [Hideki] Kuriyama, who do. So I'd like to do my best for the sake of those people, but I would also first like to listen to what [an MLB team says]."
Ohtani, perhaps the brightest star Japan has ever seen, is motivated to continue improving. He feels MLB is the best place for him to hone his skills.
"There are still so many things I'm lacking, and I want to put myself in an environment where I can improve," Ohtani said.
A player some have compared to Babe Ruth for his diverse attributes, Ohtani added: "That's the path you have to walk in the process of becoming the best player in the world. That's the ultimate goal for a baseball player, so I would definitely like to experience that."
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.