According to reports, the MLB players’ union has signed off on a new posting system that was agreed to by Nippon Professional Baseball and MLB. This means that Shohei Otani—the most interesting man in baseball, a legitimate five-tool star and an ace pitcher whose fastball has been clocked up to 103 mph—is free to come play in America.
The posting system will require any team that signs Otani to pay $20 million to his current team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, at which point Otani will be free to sign with any MLB team he wants. Because he is under the age of 25 and because MLB has designed the system governing international free agent signings to be a mechanism by which management can brute-force separate labor from money, he will be paid jack squat.
Otani would easily command a contract worth well over $100 million as a free agent, but teams who want him can only offer a rookie deal and whatever money is left in their bonus pool. The biggest bonus Otani could sign would come from the Rangers or Yankees, who can each offer him around $3.5 million. Twelve teams are limited to offering just a $300,000 bonus, and a handful of others can offer him bonuses between $1.5 million and $3.2 million.
The upshot of this is that Otani currently exists as something modern baseball, due to its lack of salary cap, has never really seen: a premium talent who is liable to sign anywhere. The Yankees’ big-market flexing, which usually guarantees them a head start worth tens of millions of dollars when chasing free agents, only offers an advantage worth a few million this time, which doesn’t matter much relative to the big score Otani will eventually make. Money being more or less a non-issue, Otani will have to consider other things—such as where he is likely to get the most playing time, or which teams will have the brass to let him continue being a two-way player—when making his decision.
There is a chance, however, that the race for Otani isn’t as wide open as it seems. A big-market team like the Yankees could sign him for lint this summer, and then simply hand him a huge extension just a few months into his rookie year. That would likely spark a fight with the league, but given the kind of singular talent Otani has, it would be a fight worth having.