December 05, 2016

TOKYO (AP) Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani says he could move to the major leagues after the 2017 season.

The 22-year-old right-hander, who has also put up big numbers at the plate, signed a $2.37 million contract for next season with the Nippon Ham Fighters on Monday.

Otani will not become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season and will need the Fighters' approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system before that time.

He says ''we discussed the possibility of me going. ... The club will respect my wishes whenever I decide I want to go.''

Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher and batted .322 with a career-high 22 home runs this season for the Fighters.

New rules in MLB's collective bargaining agreement make it more difficult for players like Otani to get paid big bucks right away. But there is a definite curiosity about his abilities, even from those who haven't seen him play much.

''I don't know which side you're worried about more: his ability to pitch or hit,'' former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ''Hopefully he stays healthy because he's an addition whatever league he winds up with, whether he stays in Japan or comes to the U.S. he's certainly going to be an exciting player for people to look forward to watching.''

Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was reluctant to talk about Otani because he's under contract in Japan. But he's intrigued about Otani's ability to pitch and hit.

''We have reports on him,'' Dombrowski said. ''Do I think a player could be a two-way player? Yeah, it could happen. It is very difficult? Yes. But I'm not saying that there's not a player out there that can't do that because some of them are rare, rare guys. Babe Ruth could do it. He was pretty good. So it can be done.''

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Oxon Hill, Maryland, contributed.

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