TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese baseball could lift the ‘Tazawa Rule’ that places restrictions on prospects who begin their professional careers abroad following schoolboy Shohei Otani’s decision to pursue his dream of playing Major League Baseball.
The high school pitching sensation triggered a potential bidding war among MLB clubs last week when he resolved to go abroad, which also sent shockwaves through the Japanese game.
Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 teams were now searching for alternatives to a rule designed to stop players jumping directly overseas, local media reported on Sunday.
Currently, players who go abroad straight from high school are ineligible for three years after their return. Corporate or university players are banned for two years upon return.
The rule came into effect in 2010 after corporate league pitcher Junichi Tazawa skipped the draft to sign with the Boston Red Sox.
Otani’s decision, which alerted the Red Sox and New York Yankees among other North American clubs, was complicated further when he was selected by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the first round of Japan’s draft a few days later.
Under the current rules, should Otani refuse to sign with the Fighters and move to the majors, Japanese clubs will face a lengthy wait before they can sign him after he returns.
“It’s not like we want to abolish the thee-year rule overnight,” Hiroshima Carp executive Kiyoaki Suzuki told Japanese media.
“It’s more a case of if there is a better option, let’s debate its merits. It’s for the benefit of the players and clubs so if there is a better rule, we should look into it.”
Suzuki added: “(Otani) has a pure dream to play in the majors and it’s pointless trying to hold him back with rules.”
The meeting sought to find a compromise solution for the aggrieved Fighters by discussing whether the Sapporo-based team could retain exclusive negotiating rights to Otani.
The issue of lifting the ban on the 1.93m pitcher if he returns to Japan was the key topic of discussion.
“Suppose Otani returns after five years,” Fighters executive director Toshimasa Shimada told the Sankei Sports newspaper. “Is it right to keep him out of Japanese baseball until he’s 26?”
Otani has sparked enormous interest from a reported eight MLB teams after clocking a 160kph fastball in a televised high school game earlier this year.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles have also been linked with the 18-year-old right-hander.
Otani said of being drafted by the Fighters: “I was honestly shocked and a bit flustered by it. I haven’t changed my feelings (about playing in MLB).”
Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by John O'Brien