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Sho time: MLB clubs begin Ohtani pursuit

MLB.com

The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have officially begun.

Major League owners held a conference call on Friday and unanimously ratified the new Japanese posting agreement, the approval of which was considered a formality. Now Ohtani has until Dec. 22 to sign with a big league club. 

The Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have officially begun.

Major League owners held a conference call on Friday and unanimously ratified the new Japanese posting agreement, the approval of which was considered a formality. Now Ohtani has until Dec. 22 to sign with a big league club. 

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:: Shohei Ohtani coverage ::

Ohtani arrived this week in Los Angeles -- where his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, is based -- and is expected to begin meeting with MLB clubs over the next several days. The Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers are among the favorites to sign him. Interestingly, there is a belief in the industry that Ohtani would prefer to play for a team that doesn't already have a Japanese star. The Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) and Dodgers (Kenta Maeda) both do.

The Cubs also are believed to have a good chance at landing Ohtani, even though they are limited to a $300,000 bonus offer under MLB's international signing restrictions. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is well-versed in the process of pursuing Japanese stars, having signed Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Red Sox 10 years ago, and he has produced creative recruiting pitches for players in the past.

It's also worth noting that the Padres have a strong relationship with Ohtani's Japanese club, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The Fighters have held recent Spring Training camps at the Padres' facility in Peoria, Ariz., which Ohtani attended. Ohtani is familiar with Padres general manager A.J. Preller, who worked for the Rangers when they pursued Ohtani as an amateur, and the Padres are among the teams that responded to the questionnaire Ohtani's representatives sent to MLB teams, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Video: Ohtani on pitching and hitting in America

Ohtani's availability was contingent on a new posting agreement, which resulted from months of negotiations among officials from MLB, the MLB Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball.

The deal allowed most provisions of the prior agreement to remain in place until Nov. 1, 2018, when the new terms will take full effect through Oct. 31, 2021.

Ohtani will be posted for the $20 million maximum, meaning that's how much his Japanese club will receive for him. Under the new posting deal that begins next year, NPB clubs will receive release fees in proportion to the guarantee amount of the player's initial MLB contract: 20 percent of the first $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent on all amounts above $50 million. Minor League contracts will carry a 25 percent release fee.

The MLBPA pushed to narrow the window during which players can be posted, in an effort to mitigate disruptions to the domestic free-agent market. They won that concession. Starting in 2018, NPB players may be posted only from Nov. 1-Dec. 5.

Tweet from @blackwings2011: #Ohtani has arrived in LAX. 🛬 pic.twitter.com/Th1A6WIDoS

The competition to sign Ohtani will be frenzied, but the price won't be driven up very high. Because Ohtani, 23, is has not yet turned 25, he's subject to limitations placed on amateur players residing outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The Rangers currently have the most international bonus pool money available ($3.535 million), followed by the Yankees ($3.5 million) and Twins ($3.07 million).

MLB also announced Friday that, as a result of the new posting agreement, right-handed pitcher Kazuhisa Makita of NPB's Saitama Seibu Lions will be posted on or before Dec. 31.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.