Shohei Otani, an accomplished young pitcher and outfielder in Japan’s top league, announced on Saturday that he wanted to move to Major League Baseball next season.
“The other day I met with team officials and stated my intentions,” Otani said at a news conference. “My request was met with warm words of support, so I hope to do my best in America from next year on.”
Otani’s Japanese club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, said on Friday that it would allow Otani to use the posting system this off-season, clearing the way for him to sign with a major league team next season. Otani, 23, was named the most valuable player in the Pacific League for 2016, and he was 3-2 with a 3.20 earned run average this year. Despite thigh and ankle injuries, he batted .332 in 65 games with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 31 runs batted in. He had ankle surgery last month.
He has a 42-15 record with a 2.52 E.R.A. and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings over five seasons, and a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 runs batted in. Because Otani has less than nine years of service time, Nippon Ham retains his rights, and he must go through the posting system to leave.
If M.L.B., the MLB Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball agree to a deal that would extend the expired posting agreement through this off-season, the team that signs Otani would pay the Fighters $20 million. Under M.L.B.’s labor contract, his signing bonus would be restricted, with the remaining pool money limited to $3,535,000.
Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, the 23-year-old Otani can agree only to a minor league contract that is subject to signing bonus pools. If added to a big league roster, he would have a salary of about the minimum $545,000 next season and would not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest.
If Otani waited until he turned 25 to enter M.L.B., there would be no restrictions and he could expect a better deal. But Otani said he wanted to go now rather than wait.
“I am not a complete player yet, and I want to go to an environment where I can continue to get better,” he said. “I felt the same way when I graduated from high school. And it is my strongest reason for wanting to go now.”
Otani considered going straight to M.L.B. out of high school but was persuaded to sign with the Fighters, who assured him that he could play the outfield as well as pitch.He said in the news conference that he hoped to continue batting and pitching.
“Just before I turned professional, I didn’t imagine I would be able to do both,” Otani said. “But since then, the fans have encouraged it.” He added that Manager Hideki Kuriyama and his coaches had helped make the dual role possible. “That has left me with a strong desire to keep doing it,” he said, “not only for me, but for them.”
“I don’t know if it will be possible,” he continued, “but I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available. Until that process has started, I can’t say how it might work out.”