He’s 23. He hits for power and has a 100 mph fastball. He’s been called the Babe Ruth of Japan. And he’s about to be the center of one of the most anticipated recruiting wars in baseball history.
A person familiar with the decision says Major League Baseball owners have approved a new posting agreement with their Japanese counterparts in a move that allows bidding to start for Ohtani. The Seattle Mariners are viewed as contender to land Ohtani, who played the last five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League.
MLB owners voted Friday on the deal with Nippon Professional Baseball, and the unanimous decision to approve it was disclosed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with meeting. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.
Ohtani was to be put up for bid later Friday by the Nippon Ham Fighters for the maximum $20 million posting fee, starting a 21-day window for the 23-year-old to reach agreement on a contract with an MLB team. Under MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, Ohtani is limited to a minor league contract subject to a team’s signing bonus pool. The maximum bonus he could get is $3,535,000.
Ohtani was in Los Angeles, a person familiar with his location said. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in his recent podcast that the Mariners have been preparing their pitch for more than a year.
“We're not going to leave a stone unturned in the efforts to do it again if the opportunity arises,” Dipoto said in an excerpt of the podcast posted at mlb.com. “We'll be responsible in how we do it, but we understand this is a one-time buying opportunity and you have to be prepared. To me, the worst thing we can be is sitting on the sideline being too conservative, sitting on our hands when an opportunity to change the history of the organization comes along. Because this is what this might be.”
Seattle has $1.6 million available and are thought to have a chance because of the success of Japanese players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Kenji Johjima had with the Mariners.
In Japan, Ohtani has established himself a dominant pitcher and somebody who can hit for power and average. In 2016, he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI in 104 games. He was also 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts. Last season was cut short by injury. In his career, he has 48 home runs and a .286 average, while on the mound he is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts.
Ohtani’s agent sent questionnaires to all 30 teams asking for them to explain how they planned to use the prospect as a pitcher and hitter. Answers were to be submitted in both English and Japanese.
Because of restrictions in MLB’s new labor contract, any agreement must be for a minor league contract subject to remaining amounts in each team’s 2017-18 international signing bonus pool. Texas has the most available at $3.53 million followed by the New York Yankees ($3.5 million), Minnesota ($3.1 million) and Pittsburgh ($2.3).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.