Pitcher? Hitter? Both! And soon, Ohtani in play

Parties agree to new rules regarding NPB player transfers

November 20th, 2017

At last, we can say it: Shohei Ohtani is coming to Major League Baseball in 2018.

Officials from Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball agreed Tuesday on a new posting system to govern player transfers from Japan to North America, sources confirmed to MLB.com. Once MLB owners ratify the terms on Dec. 1 -- viewed as a formality -- the NPB's Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters will post Ohtani to MLB clubs, initiating a courtship period for the two-way phenom that will culminate just before Christmas.

The deal's terms were first reported by MLB Network insider Joel Sherman and subsequently confirmed to MLB.com by multiple sources.

The posting agreement runs through Oct. 31, 2021, meaning it will continue for the length of baseball's current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In some cases, the new provisions won't take effect immediately. For example, the Fighters will be awarded a $20 million posting fee in exchange for transferring Ohtani's rights, the maximum allowed under the previous posting agreement. In future years, NPB clubs will receive release fees according to the amount of guaranteed money in 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.

A 25 percent fee will accompany all Minor League contracts beginning next offseason, according to the agreement.

The scaled release fees represented a breakthrough in negotiations. The compromise helped convince Japanese baseball officials to move off a prior insistence on "pull back" rights that would have allowed NPB teams to rescind posting offers if they produced lower-than-expected contracts.

"I thank both [Major League Baseball chief legal officer] Dan Halem and [Major League Baseball vice president and deputy general counsel, labor relations] Pat Houlihan for their commitment to try to reach an agreement," Nobby Ito, chief officer for NPB rules and labor, said of the lead MLB negotiators with whom he worked. "I respect their professionalism throughout the negotiation in the last seven months."

When all the agreement's provisions go into effect next offseason, the posting period for each player will be 30 days. Ohtani, by contrast, will have a 21-day window; depending on how quickly he's posted after the owners' ratification on Dec. 1. He's likely to sign right before the industry (usually) shifts into neutral during the holidays.

Ohtani, 23, is considered one of the best prospects to ever come out of Japan, with a fastball that hits 100 mph and a slider that compares to MLB's best. In 2016, his last full season, he posted a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings while hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 382 plate appearances as a part-time DH. 

Though a right ankle injury kept him out of the 2017 World Baseball Classic and sidelined him for the first half of the season, he recently underwent successful surgery and is expected to be 100 percent for Spring Training.

In limited duty this year he still whiffed more than a batter per inning while posting a .942 OPS.

The MLBPA had been eager for a resolution on the posting agreement in general and Ohtani's case, specifically, because union officials believed the uncertainty surrounding the pitching and hitting star has inhibited the rest of the free-agent market. The MLBPA set an initial deadline of 8 p.m. ET Monday before extending it another 24 hours.

In the process, the union gained an important victory regarding the period during which Japanese players may be posted to MLB clubs. That window will narrow in future years, to between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5, which the union hopes will prevent future free-agent classes from languishing when a marquee player is available.

Throughout the negotiations, teams seemed to be operating as if Ohtani will be available and subject to the international signing bonus rules. And on Monday, the Yankees -- who are rumored to have heavy interest in Ohtani -- acquired $250,000 in international pool money in a trade with the Marlins, which would bring their available bonus pool to $3.5 million, reported MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. According to Mayo, that puts them just behind the Rangers, who have the largest pool at $3.535 million.

The Twins are the only other team with more than $3 million ($3.245 million to be exact). The Pirates are next with $2,266,750 remaining in their pool, and then there are six teams -- the Giants, Marlins, Royals, White Sox, Cardinals and Mariners -- that have between $1 million and $2 million to spend on the international market.

Several teams are extremely limited in a potential chase for Ohtani because they went over their spending totals in the previous signing period. The penalty for that excess is being limited to offering any single player no more than $300,000. There are a dozen teams that fall into this group: the Giants, Royals, White Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Astros, A's, Reds, Nationals and Padres.