Japan’s Babe Ruth Stuck Abroad Until 2019

Shohei Omani is 39-13 as a professional pitcher in Japan’s NPB, which seems fine, perhaps good, 16 games over .500 in 3 years is just that.

However, when you consider in the same time period he has 1 more home runs (40) than wins, all of sudden things get interesting.

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Even skipping over those first 3 years, in which he began his career at 18 (making his debut in right field(!)), a solid decade younger than the average pitcher in the NPB, Otani had the most gaudy 2016 season that much of us could even imagine.

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To the extent that Baseball American compared him to Babe Ruth (yeah, maybe hyperbole, but that’s how things work in today’s day in age).

That is not a typo. In 2016 Otani took home the Pacific League MVP as well as Best Designated Hitter honors… yup he pitched and hit and his team won the “Climax Series,” the Japanese equivalent to the World Series.

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In the process he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts while batting a cool .322 and blasting 22 homers. Oh, and did I mention he won the league’s Home Run Derby?

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Oh, and did I mention he’s a year younger than NL MVP runner-up Corey Seager?

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And how about the fact in October he set the record for the NPB’s fastest pitch at 103 mph, breaking a record he set in September, which broke a record he set in June…

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And while late Wednesday night the owners and MLBPA came to an agreement to confirm we would have 26 consecutive seasons of lockout free baseball they simultaneously determined we would be deprived of the most exciting prospect in baseball until likely at least 2019.

Under the last collective bargaining agreement international prospects could only sign minor league contracts unless they were at least 23-years old and had 5 years of professional baseball experience. And if you met both these requirements, as Otani would have next offseason, you were free to do as you please.

However, as a part of negotiations last night the age limit was raised to 25 and an international cap of between $4.75 to $5.75 was put in place for those who failed to meet that threshold.

So, to put it in basic terms, Otani could have been posted by his Japanese team (requiring MLB teams to pay a maximum of $20m for a right to negotiate a contract with him), the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, next year and have expected a contract north of $200m, but instead will need to hold out until 2019 to avoid just getting a fraction of that.

And for a little perspective on how aggressive this international cap number is:

Next winter, we could have seen one of the most sought after international free agents in history hit the market (and hopefully signed by my beloved Chicago Cubs), but instead we will have to likely wait an additional two years.

Despite the fact the new CBA implemented some serious improvements, including much needed adjustments to rules surrounding players who have received qualifying offers and the asinine determination of World Series home field advantage via the All-Star Game, it robbed the fans of seeing the most exciting players in the world here in America as well as minimizing the earning potential of players abroad.

It looks like we’ll have to wait out this 5-year agreement to right these wrongs, but in the meantime we’ll have to wait a long two extra years to see the most electrifying prospect in the world bless an MLB diamond. A damn shame for the team who signs him and every fan of baseball.

On the bright side it may provide a reason to actually watch the World Baseball Classic to get familiar with the next Japanese ace destined to takeover Major League Baseball.

And if you’re optimistic (unlike me), there is a chance the current MLB-NPB deal could supersede the new CBA if extended, which was enacted in 2013 and has relatively vague termination terms:

“The term of the new posting agreement is three years, continuing from year-to-year thereafter until either the Office of the Commissioner or the NPB gives notice of its intent to terminate the agreement one hundred and eighty days prior to the anniversary of the commencement of the agreement.” – via MLB.com

However, I don’t suggest holding your breath.

 

 

The Ringer’s Michael Baumann did a great job breaking down the changes to the CBA as a whole, while Ben Lindbergh discusses the potential for Otani to be a two-way player in the MLB after his historic season. They also have my go-to MLB podcast, which you can find here.