The final hurdle has been cleared, and Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani is now all but certain to play for one of the 30 MLB teams beginning this coming season. Major League Baseball, NPB, and the MLBPA reached an agreement on a new posting system just before Tuesday's self-imposed deadline. Ohtani's Nippon Professional Baseball club had previously announced its intention to post him, and the 23-year-old has already retained an MLBPA-approved agent.
Changes to the agreement don't kick in until next year, so Ohtani will actually be posted under the old terms. Because he is under the age of 25, Ohtani will not be treated as a true free agent. Whereas Masahiro Tanaka was able to negotiate a lucrative contract, Ohtani is subject to international spending limits.
The Yankees are one of only three clubs that have at least $3 million in bonus pool money left. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman recently finalized a deal to send Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith to Miami in exchange for a low level prospect and $250,000 in bonus pool money. This move was widely interpreted as a signal that New York was all in to sign Ohtani.
The Japanese Babe Ruth?
Hailed as the Japanese Babe Ruth, Ohtani has had tremendous success as a two-way player in Japan. Over his four-year NPB career, he has been a member of the Ham Fighter's starting rotation. In between starts, he has served as the team's designated hitter. Earlier in his career, he also played all three outfield positions.
Interestingly, Ruth was never really a full-time two-way player. During the first four years of his career, Ruth was used primarily as a pitcher. He made only occasional appearances as a pinch hitter and outfielder. His final two seasons in Beantown saw him play mainly in the outfield, while pitching only part-time.
Once Ruth joined the Yankees in 1920, he pitched only five times over the remaining 16 years of his career. In true Ruthian fashion, he won all five games.
If Ohtani stars in a rotation here and becomes a hitting sensation as a regular in the lineup in between starts, he will do something that's literally unprecedented. Ruth had lobbied to play both ways on a full-time basis, but Boston's management resisted. They didn't want him to lose his focus.
Ohtani could face similar pushback. I must admit, I have trouble envisioning a MLB team allowing him to do what Ruth wanted to do. The injury risk alone would be cause for concern. However, Ohtani has been adamant about wanting to continue playing both ways upon his arrival here.
When asked whether he would let Ohtani hit, Twins GM Thad Levine said: "I think we'd let him do whatever he damn well pleases."
That really puts pressure on Brian Cashman to give Ohtani similar assurances. Let's face it, the Yankees need a fifth starter and a designated hitter. The Bombers got close to zero production from the DH spot during the playoffs, while the team may want a younger starting pitching option than some of the other available free agents. Ohtani provides a tantalizing option to fill both voids.
Ohtani, the ace pitcher
In four seasons, the right-hander has appeared in 85 games (82 starts) for the Ham Fighters as a pitcher. Ohtani is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.076 WHIP. Per nine innings pitched, he has recorded a whopping 10.3 strikeouts and allowed only 0.4 home runs.
Over 543 career innings, walks have been Ohtani's only real bugaboo. He has allowed 3.3 walks per nine and has a 3.12 strikeout to walk ratio. Ohtani features an ungodly breaking pitch and a triple-digit fastball.
Ohtani could join an already solid Yankees rotation that includes fellow 23-year-old Luis Severino and 24-year-old Jordan Montgomery. At age 28 and 29 respectively, Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka would be the elder statesmen.
Ohtani, the hitting sensation
In 1,170 NPB plate appearances, Ohtani has slugged 48 homers, driven in 166 runs, and scored 150 times. He carries a .286/.358/.500 triple slash line and has drawn 119 walks against 316 strikeouts. His career OPS is an impressive .859.
Ohtani won the Pacific League MVP Award in 2016 en route to helping the Ham Fighters win the Japan Series. He is a three-time NPB All-Star and two-time Pacific League Pitcher Best Nine. In 2016, he became the first player to win the Best Nine award as both a hitter and a pitcher. He won the Pacific League ERA title in 2015. He was also the WBSC Player of the Year that year.
The young slugger is renowned for hitting tape-measure home runs. He would pair up nicely with fellow left-handed hitter Greg Bird. Along with righties Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the foursome would combine to provide a formidable under-25 threat in the heart of New York’s batting order. Add in 27-year-old keystone combination Didi Gregorius and four-time All-Star Starlin Castro, and the Yankees have two-thirds of a starting lineup that could produce a ton of runs together for years to come.
Will the Yankees sign Ohtani?
Aside from having approximately $3.5 million in bonus pool money available to spend, the Yankees can also easily afford the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Ham Fighters. Ohtani would be under team control for six years. Signing him would continue the organization's efforts to rebuild around a youthful core. While it may be overstepping to label the Yankees as front-runners, they are clearly in a good position to sign him.
The organization figures to enlist the help of Tanaka and pinstripe legend Hideki Matsui. Both were NPB superstars prior to playing for the Yankees.
Shortly after the World Series ended, Tanaka announced that he would not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract in order to explore the free agent market. Instead, he will remain through the 2020 season with the only MLB team he has ever played for. The four-year Yankees veteran is well-positioned to welcome Ohtani to the fold and take him under his wing. Matsui was named MVP of the 2009 World Series in helping the Bombers claim their 27th title, so I'm sure he'd be happy to tell Ohtani what that feels like.
“If he’s allowed to come here and the Yankees are interested, then I expect to be involved in that process as maybe trying to convince him or recruit him to the Yankees.” Matsui told MLB.com before the new posting agreement was struck. “As far as I’ve seen, he’s a good pitcher and he’s a good hitter as well. He’s done well in Japan, so as a baseball fan I’m looking forward to how he’s going to do here in the majors and in the U.S.”
The hype train surrounding Ohtani is deafening. Yet it is clear from watching the highlight films that he deserves every bit of the accolades. Ohtani is obviously a gifted and accomplished ballplayer.
Not every talented player who makes the switch to MLB from the Japanese league continues his stardom. There have been misses as well as hits. In fact, the Yankees have experienced both.
There is no way anyone can predict precisely how a player will perform in the future. But after issuing the obligatory caveats that can be said about every draft pick and free agent signing, I see no downside whatsoever if the Yankees pull out all stops to land Ohtani.
The biggest story of the offseason so far has been Shohei Ohtani. He will be posted as soon as the new deal is ratified. We won't have to wait too much longer to find out if he's coming to the Bronx. He seems almost destined to grace the sport’s biggest stage.
What do you think about Ohtani? Do you want the Yankees to sign him? Let us know in the comments section below.