MLB approves Japan deal, allowing Ohtani bidding to start


The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously Friday to approve a new posting agreement with their Japanese counterparts, a move that allowed bidding to start for coveted pitcher and outfielder Shohei Ohtani.

Following the deal with Nippon Professional Baseball, Ohtani was put up for bid by the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters for the maximum $20 million posting fee. That opened a window for the 23-year-old to reach agreement on a contract with an MLB team until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 22.

Under MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, Ohtani is limited to a minor league contract subject to a team’s signing bonus pool. Texas has the most available at $3,535,000, followed by the New York Yankees ($3.5 million), Minnesota ($3.07 million), Pittsburgh ($2,266,750), Seattle ($1,557,500), Miami ($1.49 million) and the Los Angeles Angels ($1,315,000).

Ohtani was in Los Angeles, a person familiar with his location said. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

His agent, CAA Baseball co-head Nez Balelo, sent a memorandum to all teams Nov. 24 asking for “presentations in both Japanese and English via email” allowing the agency to “share it with the Ohtani family so we can proceed with our due diligence.”

According to a copy of the memo obtained by The Associated Press, presentations should include:

— “An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter;”

— “Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities;”

— “Major league, minor league and spring training facilities;”

— “Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation;”

— “A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization;”

— “Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play;”

— “Relevant marketplace characteristics;”

—— “And anything else that would help Shohei choose a subset of clubs on which to focus.”

Speaking during an availability Friday at Stamford, Connecticut, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said “we spent a lot of time” responding to the memo “and it involved a lot of different departments.”

“I think he’d be a perfect fit for us,” Cashman told reporters. “We put our best foot forward. … It’s a big stage here and it’s meant to have the best talent to play on, and Ohtani represents the next great talent that’s available in the world of baseball.”

Cashman flew to Japan to watch Ohtani pitch in August. He envisions him as a two-way player for New York, which has been scouting Ohtani since 2012.

“A very dynamic, unique player that could play both sides of the ball,” he said. “He’s someone of extreme value.”

Ohtani is limited to a minor league contract because of restrictions imposed by the MLB collective bargaining agreement adopted in November 2016. Foreign players are not eligible for major league contracts until they turn 25 and have six seasons of professional experience.

Ohtani was the 2016 Pacific League MVP and was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA this year for the Fighters, limited because of thigh and ankle injuries. He hit .332 in 65 games with 16 doubles, eight homers and 31 RBIs.

A right-hander, Ohtani has a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings over five seasons, and a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 RBIs.

In addition, MLB said Kazuhisa Makita, a 33-year-old right-hander on the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions, will be posted by Dec. 31.

As part of the agreement with NPB that runs from next Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2021, a tiered system for posting fees will be put in place. The fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million of a major league contract and the percentage drops to 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of any amount over $50 million. There will be a supplemental fee of 15 percent of any earned bonuses, salary escalators and exercised options.

For minor league contracts, the fee will be 25 percent of the signing bonus, and there will be a supplemental fee for any foreign professionals who at first agree to minor league deals that include major league terms that later come into force.

Half the posting fee is due within 14 days of when an agreement is confirmed, an additional 25 percent within 12 months of the agreement’s confirmation and the remainder within 18 months of the deal’s confirmation. Any supplemental fee is due within 30 days of the end of the World Series in the season the fee is earned by the player.

Starting next offseason, the posting period will be shortened to Nov. 1 through Dec. 5, and the period to reach a deal after a player is posted will revert of its traditional 30-day length. Under the previous agreement, the time period was Nov. 1 through March 1.

By Paul Wager

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