For a minute there it looked like it wasn't going to happen. It appeared as if 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani would remain in Japan for the 2018 season. However, the posting agreement got done. And now there's a report that Ohtani could be officially posted as soon as this Friday, "kicking off a mad recruitment scramble among major league teams" according to Rotoworld. To get things started Ohtani sent a written questionnaire to all 30 MLB teams to help him make his decision on where to sign. It may seem a bit much, but Ohtani has the potential to be so valuable that every front office will bend over backwards to fill that thing out.
Let's make this clear. Shohei Ohtani is going to be THE story of the 2018 MLB season. His impact, not just on the team lucky enough to sign him, but his impact on the sport as a whole is going to be felt significantly. By Opening Day we will probably be sick of hearing about him. But then he'll start pitching...or hitting...or both, and if the scouting reports are accurate we will be amazed by his two-way talent.
Ohtani would be generating a lot of buzz if he was just a pitcher, or just a hitter. Similar to the recruitments of fellow Japanese stars Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, and Masahiro Tanaka. The difference, of course, is that Ohtani is both a pitcher and a hitter. He's been called the Japanese Babe Ruth for this reason. He has excelled at both skills in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization.
So how is this going to work? Basically nobody knows. If Ohtani had to commit to one side of the ball full time, it would be pitching. That's his bread and butter. In the NPB Ohtani has made 85 pitching appearances (82 as a starter) and has posted a 2.52 ERA with 624 strikeouts in 543 innings. In MLB he will instantly become a strong #2 starter with upside of a legitimate staff ace. Some quick video scouting shows Ohtani with an easy, repeatable delivery out of the stretch, which allowed him to throw the fastest pitch in league history at 102.5 mph.
But he has said he also wants to hit, and that the chance to do both is more important than money for the 6'4", 215 pound superstar. If Ohtani signed with an AL team he could conceivably DH on days he isn't pitching. If he signed with a NL team he would be batting when pitching anyways. He could also become a lights out closer, which would allow him to even play some outfield, or would at least let him hit more often. In 403 games as a hitter in the NPB Ohtani has a triple slash line of .286/.358/.500 and 48 homers. Though he throws right-handed, Ohtani bats from the left side, generating plenty of power with a beautiful, effortless swing.
Ordinarily teams would be hesitant to let a player attempt both, but Ohtani is a special case for yet another reason. He's going to be able to be signed for pennies on the dollar relative to his potential value. If Ohtani was a regular free agent he would likely command $200 million on the open market. But because of the posting system he will be treated financially as any other prospect from the minors would, meaning his salary next year could be as low as $545,000. The largest bonus he is eligible to receive is $3.5 million from the Texas Rangers. Teams can offer bonuses based off how much money that have in their international spending pool. Just six teams can offer more than $1 million right now.
The fact that he is forgoing a potential $200 million deal two years from now speaks volumes of how interested he is in trying to both pitch and hit. It also shows that money probably won't be an issue. If he doesn't care about $200 million two years from now why would he care too much about the bonus money? It seems like he's going to go to the best situation for him. Currently the favorites to land him are the Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Rangers, for a variety of reasons.
Ultimately his talent, combined with the great mystery of whether or not he can both hit and pitch effectively in MLB, is going to make Ohtani the biggest story baseball has seen in a while. We are still in the calm phase right now. Just wait until Friday. This thing is going to take off.