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The Race to Woo Shohei Ohtani Is About to Begin

Ohtani has 21 days to reach an agreement once he is put up for bid. To that end, his agent, Nez Balelo of Creative Arts Agency, sent a memo last week through the commissioner’s office to all 30 major league clubs. It had the feel of a business proposal.

The memo asked for evaluations of Ohtani as a pitcher and hitter; explanations of a team’s player development, medical training and player-performance philosophies and facilities; details of the team’s resources to assist Ohtani’s cultural assimilation into the local area; a plan for integrating Ohtani into the organization; descriptions of a team’s major league, minor league and spring training facilities; reasons the team’s city would be a desirable place to play; and relevant marketplace characteristics.

According to a baseball official who had seen the memo but was not authorized to speak about it, it also instructs teams not to guarantee anything to Ohtani — be it a commitment to his role on the team, finances or even space on the major league roster.

That warning, the official said, coincides with the message that Commissioner Rob Manfred issued at last month’s general managers meeting, where he reiterated that teams not try to circumvent baseball’s rules on international signings with any off-the-books agreement with Ohtani. Manfred recently came down harshly on the Atlanta Braves for trying to make an end run around international signing rules.

The main purpose of the memo appears to be to gather information ahead of the negotiation window so that Ohtani and his agents can quickly winnow the field to a more manageable number of suitors.

Photo

Under far different circumstances from Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka negotiated a huge deal with the Yankees after departing Japan.

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Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

While Ohtani is expected to meet with teams in the United States, it may not happen in one location, as was the case when the last high-profile Japanese player to come to the United States. Masahiro Tanaka decamped to Los Angeles before ultimately signing a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees that went into effect for the 2014 season.

Though C.A.A. has not determined its final plans, there is a possibility that Ohtani, as a matter of expedience, will meet with clubs at some point during baseball’s winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., from Dec. 10-14.

But it is the money — or lack of it — that will make the bidding for Ohtani starkly different than it was for past Japanese stars.

For years, major league teams would make blind bids to a player’s Japanese club for the right to an exclusive 30-day negotiating window. The last of those instances came when the Texas Rangers made a winning bid of $51 million to the Fighters in 2012 for the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish in 2012.

The Rangers then signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract. The next year, a new agreement was reached that capped the posting fee at $20 million and allowed the player to negotiate with any major league team willing to pay that fee.

Ohtani, however, will be signing under a far more restrictive scenario. That is because the latest collective bargaining agreement, signed last December, raised the age of foreign players subjected to the international bonus pool system from 23, with five seasons of professional baseball, to 25, with six seasons of pro ball.

This meant Ohtani, who would have been free of international bonus-pool constraints under the old C.B.A., would have had to wait two more years before leaving Japan if he wanted a deal like the one Tanaka signed. But Ohtani was adamant about coming to the United States now, even if it is for far less money.

He will also be subject to the normal rules governing free agency, which he will not reach for six seasons.

Another factor in what Ohtani can make now is the hard cap on international player-bonus pools instituted in the new C.B.A. Under the old agreement, teams were assigned a number based on market size, but several teams blew past them since the penalty for doing so was modest. Now, teams can only spend their pool allowances, which currently range from $4.75 million to $5.75 million, though they can trade international pool money.

The Texas Rangers have the most bonus money remaining, at $3.535 million, followed closely by the Yankees, who recently increased their total to $3.5 million by acquiring bonus-pool money from the Miami Marlins. Twelve teams — including the Los Angeles Dodgers — are capped at $300,000 for going over the bonus-pool limit in previous years, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press.

Six teams have even less money remaining, including the Mets, who have $175,000.

Still, bonus money may not be all that important to a player who chose not to wait two more years to cash in with a big contract and who also stands to make considerable money through endorsements.

But exactly what is most important to Ohtani is what baseball is about to find out.

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