Race to grab 'Japan's Babe Ruth' is on

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Los Angeles (AFP)

The race to bring Shohei Ohtani to Major League Baseball is officially on after MLB owners ratified the new posting system for Japanese players on Friday.

Ohtani, the 23-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters star dubbed the "Babe Ruth of Japan" is regarded as one of the hottest properties in baseball -- a two-way threat with a fastball clocked at 100 mph (160.93 Km/h) and an explosive presence at the plate.

He has an array of interested suitors in Major League Baseball, but his move to America was on hold as a new posting system, by which Japanese clubs are compensated for the stars they lose to the States, was hammered out.

Now that he can be formally posted -- with a release fee of $20 million, Ohtani has three weeks, until December 22 -- to sign with a major league club.

Although his 2017 season in Japan was hampered by an ankle injury, in 2016 he put up dazzling numbers, with a 10-4 record and a 1.86 ERA in 140 innnings.

At the plate he hit .322 and clubbed 22 home runs.

Just where he might end up has been a subject of much speculation.

According to US reports, the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners are among the teams expected to contend for his services.

Any team that signs him will be limited to the amount it has available in its international bonus pool, with the Rangers, Yankees and Minnesota Twins the teams with the most funds available.

Ohtani's posting will be governed by the terms of the 2013 posting protocol, which was extended earlier this month as MLB nd Nippon Professional Baseball worked on their new system.

The new protocol will cover all player transfers between Japan and MLB starting on November 1, 2018. For major league contracts with a total guaranteed value of $25 million or less, the release fee will be 20 percent of the total guaranteed value of the contract.

For major league contracts with a total guaranteed value between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the release fee with be 20 percent of the first $25 million of total value, plus 17.5 percent of the total value exceeding $25 million.

For major league contracts with a guaranteed value of more than $50 million, the release fee wil be 20 percent of the first $25 million of total guaranteed value, plus $17.5 percent of the total value between $25 million and $50 million, plus 15 percent of the total value exceeding $50 million.

Contracts that include bonuses, salary escalators or options could lead to supplemental release fees.

The window during which NBP players can be posted will also be shortened to November 1 through December 5.