Japanese teenager Shohei Otani eligible for MLB in 2013

Earlier Thursday, it was reported that Japanese teen sensation Shohei Otani, who has stated he wants to sign with a Major League Baseball team, would not be eligible to do so after he was drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters of NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball).

Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that just isn't so:

While the Fighters have exclusive negotiating rights with Otani among teams in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, Otani is still free to sign with an MLB team at any time, an MLB official confirmed.

Otani, an 18-year-old Japanese high school righthander, has stated publicly both before and after the NPB draft that his desire is to sign directly with an MLB team. Just as an MLB draft pick in the U.S. is free to sign with a Japanese team instead, Otani could choose to decline an offer from the Fighters and join an MLB club, and he doesn't have to wait to make a decision.

An MLB team signing Otani would likely rankle the Fighters and other Japanese baseball officials, but there is nothing really preventing him from signing with an MLB team.

There's one more caveat for any MLB team wanting Otani (and the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees have been among teams reported interested):

If the Fighters sign Otani and try to post him, Otani would still fall under the $2.9 million international bonus pools for the 2012-13 signing period, the MLB official confirmed.

That's due to his age and amateur status. Let the bidding begin!

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