Report: Nippon Ham Intends to Draft Otani
Update: Nippon Ham did indeed draft Otani, and Ben Badler has confirmed that that won’t legally stop him from signing with an MLB team. I had implied that it would, at least until the negotiation period ends, and I was incorrect about that.
Aaaaaaaaaaaand we have our first bit of drama in Shohei Otani‘s journey to MLB. Quoted in Sanspo, Nippon Ham Fighters GM Masao Yamada has declared his intent to select Otani with his first pick in today’s (JST time) draft.
“Regarding Otani-kun, he’s made comments saying like to go to a Major League team, but as a ball club we will follow through with our intent to select the strongest player with our first pick. We plan to select Otani-kun.”
note: the “kun” suffix is a name identifier; kind of like “san” for young men.
If Nippon Ham (or any other NPB team) drafts Otani, they will have the right to sign him until the end of March 2013. The MLB and NPB working agreement prohibits one league from signing players who are under contract with a team from the other league, so at a minimum being selected in the draft would delay Otani signing with an MLB club for several months.
Why would Yamada pick Otani, despite his intent to sign with an MLB club? Well, he’s within his rights to do so, since Otani announced his MLB plans after declaring eligible for the NPB draft. Yamada must feel that Otani’s upside is worth the signability risk. Maybe he thinks he can talk him into signing. This move is not unprecedented; last year Yamada selected Tomoyuki Sugano, the consensus top college arm in the draft, who had let it be known that he would not sign with anyone other than the Yomiuri Giants. Sugano didn’t even negotiate with Nippon Ham and is back in the draft this year.