Japanese free agent Ohtani drawing heavy interest

Shohei Ohtani was a fan favorite in Japan, where his prodigious power was on display as a designated hitter on days between his scheduled starts as a pitcher.

Turns out, the Major League Baseball free agent is drawing a crowd stateside as baseball’s Hot Stove heats up with the open of general manager meetings.

After all, what’s not to like about a pitcher who consistently clocks between 98-101 mph on the radar gun and also won his league’s version of the Home Run Derby?

The 23-year-old stands 6-foot-4 but measuring his potential and likelihood for immediate impact is the educated guesswork left to 30 MLB general managers. Rest assured, every one of them knows critical details about one of the biggest catches ever to come to MLB from Japan.

“Generally, if you have someone capable of doing something like that, it gives you more roster flexibility and roster choices,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday of Ohtani’s draw. “It’s kind of like having a 26th man when everyone else is playing with 25, just because of the duality of that particular player.”

Ohtani is open to a dual role if the top bidder for his services agrees he can ply his pitching and hitting trade at this level.

“I don’t know if I’ll be given the chance to be able to do it, so first of all, I’ll have to listen to what they say,” Ohtani told reporters before he was officially posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters. “You can’t go after something like that unless you’re in the right circumstance. It’s not just about what I want to do.”

But the conversation stretches well beyond the normal suggestion of one player capable of playing multiple positions. Consider that more than 10 teams witnessed Ohtani’s Oct. 4 start in Japan, a game in which he also batted cleanup. If Ohtani’s bat is as potent as many project, he could, for example, give a National League lineup a middle of the order bat out of the starting pitching spot.

Ohtani is likely to sign for far below market value — MLB.com suggested his initial deal might pay between $1 million and $5 million annually — because of bonus limitations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on international players under 25 years old.

Coupled with his reputation, this price range almost assures interest will be great in Ohtani.

“He’s an incredibly talented player; we, like 29 other clubs, have scouted him extensively,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told MLB.com on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s a unique skill set, and there’s a reason why it’s attracted so much attention.”

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