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Otani eyes MLB move after next season

Kyodo

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Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Shohei Otani said Monday he has told club officials of his desire to try his luck in the major leagues from 2018.

The 22-year-old, who re-signed with the Fighters in a deal worth ¥270 million ($2.37 million) for the 2017 season on a ¥70 million pay raise, told officials he is eyeing the move in as early as the 2017 offseason.

“I know that the club will respect my will whenever I decide I want to go (to the majors). It is pleasing to get that support and I’m thankful for it,” said Otani, the holder of NPB’s fastest pitch record at 165 kph.

“There are no clear criteria (as to when to move). I could have that desire to move (over the course of) next year and we just talked about how things will go in those moments.

“First I will give 100 percent for the Fighters next year to be Japan’s best again. I’ll put my soul into it.”

Otani, who will be one of the most sought-after players once on the market, will not become eligible for international free agency until after the 2021 season and will need the Fighters’ approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system before that time.

A week ago, Otani was recognized for his two-way talent and named the league MVP, posting 10 wins as a pitcher and hitting .322 with 22 home runs as a batter this past season.

Otani didn’t hide his delight in matching the salary of former Fighters No. 11 Yu Darvish following their fourth year out of high school but vowed to do even better next year in what could be his last NPB season.

“I’m happy to have reached the same figure (as Darvish),” Otani said. “I signed with satisfaction and will give my best next year with a refreshed feeling.

“(But) I feel I could do a little bit more, and I will need to.”

When the Fighters selected him in the first round of the amateur draft in October 2012, Otani, then a senior at Hanamaki Higashi High School, was convinced by the team that he should gain experience in NPB before making his debut as a major league player.

At the time, the Fighters were said to have wooed Otani into signing by explaining to him their plans to help him develop into a two-way player, in order to prevent him from jumping directly from high school to American baseball.

Otani is the first player in NPB history to be named to the PL’s Best Nine team as both pitcher and designated hitter.