On Wednesday, a rumor about 22-year-old Japanese star pitcher/hitter Shohei Otani got us very excited. In short, rival executives believe the Cubs are saving some of their ammo right now so that they can go all out to get Otani if and when he is posted, as soon as next offseason.

That night, MLB owners and players agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, many of the details of which you can read about here.

There is one specific aspect about the CBA, however, that immediate dampened the swell of enthusiasm about Otani that had built over the course of the day (and, really, the weeks and months that preceded it, as speculation about Otani coming to MLB next year grew and grew).

Jeff Passan summed it up well in this tweet, the baseball transaction version of “Houston, we have a problem”:

As many have explained, the problem is the CBA has reportedly moved of the cutoff age for international free agent status from 23 (which Otani will be next year) to 25. In other words, if reports about the language in the CBA are accurate (the full doc is not yet out), any international player under the age of 25 who wants to sign with an MLB organization will do so subject to the significant IFA signing restrictions, which got even firmer in the CBA: each organization will have only about $5 to $6 million with which to hand out signing bonuses in a given year. It is a hard cap, and it cannot be exceeded.

If Otani remains subject to IFA restrictions for three more years, then, there is no reason to expect he would want to be posted until after the 2019 season at the very earliest. A one-year $6 million payday and the hope of larger earnings thereafter would a foolish move for a hot commodity who could instead wait a few years and probably get $200 million or more. Why come over for cheap and risk showing MLB that you’re not quite as good as they thought? Stay a hot commodity in Japan, and then lock in the monster contract in a few years. That’s the safer, wiser move.

In sum, this particular CBA-Otani revelation is a bummer for baseball as a whole, and a particular bummer to the Cubs, if they were indeed planning to make a huge run at Otani.

There is hope, though.

Given what a uniquely special talent Otani is, how desirable his presence will be in MLB, and how much he will (presumably) want to come play in MLB for a huge contract, there might be a workaround that we just don’t know about yet.

Might there be a way that NPB players in his situation – or even just him, specifically – will be granted some kind of exemption?

Jeff Passan and Joel Sherman hear it’s possible:

So, then, it’s still possible. Until and unless there are more specific rumors on this, I’m going to reserve too much more concern or excitement until I read the CBA language, itself, hopefully within the next couple weeks. It might become clear then just how a player like Otani would get around this issue, or, we’ll know for sure that some kind of special arrangement is going to be required.

In other words, your Obsessive Otani Watch has not been cancelled just yet.


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