Shohei Otani Hires US Agent, Could Be Step Closer to MLB

It’s no secret to semi-regular readers that I have developed a mild obsession with two-way star Shohei Otani. Whether the Cubs have a legit shot at landing him or not, I really want to see what Otani can do in MLB. The prospect of the Japanese import manufacturing stateside — you know, kinda like how cars already are — took a big hit when the various parties involved in his move arrived at an impasse.

You can click that link for more details, but the abridged version is that the previous posting agreement expired and Otani’s current team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, wasn’t down with the new process set forth by Nippon Professional baseball. While a team would have been paid $20 million to post their player under the old guidelines, the new ones would entitle the team to only 15-20 percent of the MLB contract the player signed.

That’s a pretty sweet deal if a superstar like Otani landed what was initially expected to be a $200 million deal. But because he’s subject to the age and experience restrictions set forth in the new CBA, Otani’s earning power is limited to a fraction of that. MLB has stated a willingness to grandfather him in under the old agreement, though doing so would require the approval of the players union.

As simple as that seems on the surface, it’s complicated by the matter of Otani’s representation, or lack thereof. Even though he wouldn’t be a member of the union until he becomes a major leaguer, he’d need to have an approved agent in order to have MLBPA’s help in facilitating his move.

That hurdle now appears to have been cleared, as Dylan Hernadez of the LA Times tweeted Monday evening. Scott Boras had been seen as the early frontrunner, but Otani opted for Nez Balelo and Creative Artists Agency, which counts Nori Aoki and Junichi Tazawa among its clients.

While I’d really like to see this as a sign that Otani might be posted after all, the hiring of an agent could be a mere formality. We need to remember that this isn’t just a matter of the player wanting to test himself in MLB; his current team and his would-be union still need to work things out. The Ham Fighters likely present the biggest obstacle, what with their desire to maximize their return on a generational talent.

This is purely speculation on my part, but I have to think there’s more to this than simply trying to work out a way for the posting fee to sit at $20 million. I have no doubt NPB and the Fighters would love to sneak Otani in under a combination of the old CBA and their new posting agreement, which would require some serious finagling.

There’s also the matter of Otani’s public image, which has been very well manicured to this point. Whether he actually plans to leap from NPB to MLB this season or not, it’s a good idea to maintain appearances and have US representation working on his behalf.

With 2018 free agency now open, you can bet teams will be keeping very close tabs on any further developments in this situation. And while you’re in a gambling mood, you should also put money on me writing about anything else that pops up.

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