When (or if) Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Otani finds a clear path to the Major Leagues this offseason, the Yankees’ front office could potentially make a sales pitch to the 23-year-old with help from one of Japan’s greatest players.
Hideki Matsui, who currently works as one of the franchise’s special advisors, told MLB.com’s Deesha Thosar on Sunday afternoon that he’s observed Otani’s abilities as both a pitcher and hitter, and he hopes to soon meet the youngster marketed as “Japan’s Babe Ruth.”
“If [Otani’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 Thosar through a translator. “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.”
Due to Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players can’t enter true unrestricted free agency until age 25. So, if Otani chooses to leave his homeland for the states this offseason (which seems more than likely), he’ll be treated like a young international free agent — a unique case for MLB. This decision would cost Otani hundreds of millions of American dollars if posted by his Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and also offer all Major League clubs the opportunity to pursue him at a low cost.
However, the situation isn’t that simple. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the MLB Players’ Association isn’t inclined to sign off on an agreement that would give Hokkaido a $20 million posting fee for Otani’s services. Fortunately, that conflict will officially be settled by the players’ union on Monday, and should Otani be posted, current guidelines restrict him from receiving a bonus worth more than $4 million. The Yankees would be able to offer Otani at least $3 million in international bonus pool money.
In 2017, Otani — who hits lefty and throws righty — started just five games (3-2, 3.20 ERA) due to lingering thigh and ankle injuries. But his numbers at the plate were commendable, as he posted a .332/.403/.540 slash line with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 31 RBI in 65 games (231 plate appearances) for Hokkaido.
Although the 6-foot-3, 189-pounder has found success in two different roles, Matsui isn’t sure how it would translate at the Major League level, per Thosar.
“As far as I know, I’ve never really seen a player that performs well as a pitcher and a hitter. To be honest with you, I really don’t know what may come out of it, but I wish him well,” Matsui said. “If that’s something he wants to do and the team wants it, then why not?”
Matsui also played a role in the Yankees’ signing of Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. In 2014, Tanaka agreed to a seven-year, $155 million deal with New York.
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