SAPPORO – Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters slugging ace pitcher Shohei Otani is likely to go to the major leagues through the posting system after the end of this season, an informed source said Wednesday.
The 23-year-old remains unchanged from last offseason in terms of his desire to move to the majors via the scheme, in which Nippon Professional Baseball players who are not yet eligible to declare free agency can be transferred to a Major League Baseball club, according to the source.
The Fighters told him during contract renewal negotiations last December that they are willing to approve the use of the system for him to move to the big leagues.
A player needs to spend nine years on first-team rosters to become a free agent, but Otani is still in his fifth year with the Fighters.
Nippon Ham officials plan to speak with Otani after the season is over and they are expected to reach an agreement by the end of the Japan Series championship scheduled from late October to early November, the source said.
The news comes a day after half of MLB’s 30 teams were at Sapporo Dome watching Otani throw 5⅔ scoreless innings in his third start of the season and pick up his first win this year as the Fighters blanked the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 7-0.
There was some speculation that Otani might delay his move to the majors either because of changes to MLB’s international signing rules or because he has been plagued by injuries this season.
The rules, ratified early this year, mean that international pros under the age of 25 are treated like amateurs and unable to sign lucrative free agent contracts.