One of the Texas Rangers’ primary off-season targets is undergoing surgery Thursday.
Shohei Ohtani, a star pitcher and hitter in Japan, is scheduled to have his troublesome right ankle repaired after it kept him from the World Baseball Classic and limited him to only 65 games, five on the mound, this season for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Ohtani, who was injured in the playoffs last season while running, said in a statement that he wants to be in perfect shape for new season. That new season is expected to be in the United States, in the major leagues, in 2018 if the Fighters throw him into the posting system in the coming months.
Teams interested in Ohtani will submit the $20 million posting fee, and the right-hander will select which team he wants to negotiate with to launch his MLB career.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels confirmed that the Rangers will be among the teams ponying up the $20 million. If Ohtani doesn’t select the Rangers, they keep the $20 million. His decision is likely to come in December or January.
The posting system has changed since the Rangers won the rights to negotiation with Yu Darvish late in 2011. The highest bidder won the negotiating rights, and the Rangers overwhelmed the Fighters with a bid of $51.7 million.
The Rangers signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal. Ohtani won’t received nearly that much if he is posted this season.
At age 23, he falls under the strict rules for signing international free agents under at 25. Such a player must be signed from a team’s international bonus pool.
The Rangers are believed to have the most international bonus money remaining after acquiring money from teams via trades over the summer. That alone makes them a contender for Ohtani, and the Rangers have had many scouts following him this season.
“We’re not hiding anything,” Daniels said last week. “If the Fighters ultimately post Ohtani, you’re going to have 30 interested major-league clubs. How that process goes, I don’t think we know yet.”
Daniels went to Japan in May to watch Ohtani, who has thrown the hardest pitch in the history of Nippon Professional Baseball (102 mph) and swatted as many as 22 homers in a season.
The 6-foot-3 Ohtani is the reigning MVP, but he had only 194 bats and 25 1/3 innings this season because of the ankle injury. He was very good in limited action, batting .332 with eight homers and going 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA.
Ohtani has expressed an interest in being a two-way player in the majors. The Rangers must fill three vacancies in the rotation this off-season, and Ohtani would be an affordable long-term fit who would also be on the roster when the new Globe Life Field opens in 2020.
The Rangers haven’t indicated if they would let Ohtani play in the field between starts, but manager Jeff Banister gushed over Ohtani’s athleticism last week during the Rangers’ season wrap-up news conference.
“First of all, I love great athletes,” Banister said. “When I watch athletes and watch baseball, he’s as good of an athlete as you’re going to see out there. He’s a real pioneer in what his capabilities are. This is not a player, I think, baseball has not seen anything like before.”