Ohtani tosses gem with scouts on hand

Japanese ace/slugger impresses in latest outing

Ohtani tosses gem with scouts on hand

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have never signed a player out of Japan but on Wednesday, general manager Dick Williams was in Sapporo to watch one of the more coveted players in the nation.

Shohei Ohtani, a pitcher and outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters, started on the mound and threw a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in a win over the Orix Buffaloes. He also batted fourth and got a hit. According to a club source, Williams was among those from the Reds who were on hand to watch. A large group of scouts and executives from around the Majors, including Dodgers vice president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, was also reportedly in attendance.

Ohtani, 23, is viewed by some as baseball's first potential two-way star player and pitcher since the early years of Babe Ruth. He reportedly will be posted this offseason and have the ability to sign with a Major League club. His start on Wednesday was his last of the season, and possibly his last in Japan, as Nippon Ham did not make the Nippon Professional Baseball playoffs. He threw 124 pitches, hitting 98 mph on the final pitch of the game, which induced a double play.

The small-market Reds have generally avoided big-splash free agents, especially those from Japan, because of the high salaries commanded and the posting fees required for the right to negotiate with Japanese teams to sign their player.

"I want to let the fans know we are serious about our investment in Asia," Williams said via a text message Wednesday.

Ohtani has dealt with thigh and ankle injuries this season that have limited his ability to pitch. Wednesday marked just his fifth start on the mound.

In 2016, the right-handed-throwing Ohtani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) with a 0.96 WHIP over 140 innings. A lefty hitter, he also batted .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs. Ohtani is listed at 6-foot-3, 189 pounds.

Ohtani is two years shy of being a traditional Japanese free agent, able to sign with any club at any price. But with MLB's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are limited to hard-capped bonus pools for international signings of between $4.75 million and $5.75 million to spend between July 2 and June of the next year. Teams can also expand their pool up to $10 million via trades.

Williams did not meet with Ohtani since no direct contact is permitted. But he did meet with the Fighters GM.

"That was a very good conversation," Williams said. "They are always interested in American players so we have to open that dialogue.

"But it was most important to send a signal that we want to be considered by Ohtani when he comes out."

The rules: An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of the next year if he is at least 17 or will turn 17 by the end of the first season of his contract.

According to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, every team gets at least $4.75 million to spend on international prospects. Any team receiving a Competitive Balance Round A pick in the Draft gets $5.25 million in international bonus pool money. Additionally, teams receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick get $5.75 million to spend on international prospects.

A club can trade as much of its international pool money as it would like, but there is a limit -- 75 percent of a team's initial pool -- to how much one team can acquire.

The teams: The A's, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, Royals and White Sox will not be able to sign international prospects for more than $300,000 during the 2017-18 period because they are in the maximum penalty. They will still be able to use all of their pool money. The Angels, Blue Jays, D-backs, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees are now out of the penalty and no longer limited to signing players for $300,000 or less.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.