Deadline extended as 'Japan's Babe Ruth' eyes switch to majors

The previous deadline on hammering out a new posting agreement – which regulates moves of players between the MLB and the NPB – had been due to expire on Monday.

Japan's pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani looks at the ball after hitting a double against Netherlands' pitcher Mike Bolsenbroek during the seventh inning of the second game of the exhibition series at Tokyo Dome in this November 13, 2016, photo.

Japanese star Shohei Ohtani's hopes of playing in Major League Baseball were given a boost on Monday after the United States players union agreed to extend a key deadline that could pave the way for a move.

The Major League Baseball Players Association said it had approved a 24-hour extension to a deadline for MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball to reach a new posting agreement.

The previous deadline on hammering out a new posting agreement — which regulates moves of players between the MLB and the NPB — had been due to expire on Monday.

If MLB and NPB are able to reach an agreement by 0100 GMT on Wednesday, Ohtani could be free to be posted and eligible for the major leagues in 2018.

The 23-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters dubbed the "Babe Ruth of Japan" is regarded as one of the hottest properties in baseball, a two-way threat with a fastball clocked at 100mph and an explosive presence at the plate.

He has an array of interested suitors in MLB, according to reports.

Although his 2017 season in Japan was hampered by an ankle injury, in 2016 he put up dazzling numbers, with a 10-4 record and a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings.

At the plate he hit .322 and clubbed 22 home runs.

Under the terms of MLB's collective bargaining agreement, international players under the age of 25 qualify as amateurs, meaning that Ohtani could only be paid a signing fee from the fixed international bonus pools allocated to each team.

If Ohtani elects to wait until he is 25 and remain in Japan for two years, he would enter free agency and be allowed to negotiate what in all probability would be a massive contract. 

Ohtani, however, has reportedly signaled that he wants to move to the MLB in 2018, putting the league's teams on alert.

Bonus pools

According to US reports, the Texas Rangers, the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees are the only teams with bonus pools large enough to grant Ohtani a US$3-million signing fee.

But Ohtani has indicated that the size of his joining free will not necessarily influence his choice of team.

"As long as I have enough money to be able to play baseball and am enjoying baseball, that's all I'm asking for right now," he told Sports Illustrated in April.

On Monday,  the Yankees raised their available signing bonus money for Ohtani to US$3.5 million, acquiring US$250,000 in pool money from the Miami Marlins on Monday for left-hander Caleb Smith and first baseman Garrett Cooper, The Associated Press reported.

New York has the second-highest total of available international signing bonus money behind the Rangers at US$3,535,000. Minnesota is third at US$3,245,000, followed by Pittsburgh (US$2,266,750), Seattle (US$1,557,500) and Miami (US$1.49 million).

Right-hander Michael King also went to New York as part of the trade. In addition, the Yankees dealt right-hander Ronald Herrera to the Rangers for left-hander Reiver Sanmartin, creating more room on the 40-man roster ahead of next month's winter meeting draft of unprotected players.

New York selected the contracts of infielder Gleyber Torres, outfielder Billy McKinney and right-handers Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo and Jonathan Loaisiga, along with infielder Thairo Estrada, protecting them from the draft.

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