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World Baseball Signings: Past and Present

Every year, roughly 1,000 baseball players enter the international signing period to have their opportunity to play in the MLB. Over the years, there have been significant international signings of foreign baseball players and Major League Baseball. In this article, we discuss the international signing rules, recap past notable signings, and analyze which foreign players will have the next exceptional impact on MLB.

The Signing Rules for Foreign Players

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani agreed a deal from Nippon Baseball on December 8, 2017 – Credit:

The international signing period is customarily from July 2 until June 15 of the following year; however, the signing period was extended six months this year due to the coronavirus. The final day for players to sign a major league contract is set for January 15.

For players to be eligible to sign, they must be at least 16 years old, though the player must turn 17 by September 1 of the following year. For players under 16, they may elect to sign a “Signed for Future Service” contract, which will go into effect the following season. 

For players who are 17, they must also not have previously signed either a Major League or Minor League contract in the past. Players are also required to live outside of the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico while not enrolled in high school in the US, Canada, or Puerto Rico within the past year.

Past International Baseball Signings

Masahiro Tanaka pitching for the Tohoku Ratuten Golden Eagles (NPB) in 2007
Masahiro Tanaka pitching for the Tohoku Ratuten Golden Eagles (NPB) in 2007 – Credit: Neier, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

International baseball players have left their mark on baseball history over the years, including most recently Masahiro Tanaka and Shohei Ohtani of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Masahiro Tanaka played for the Rakuten Eagles beginning at age 18. Over his seven-year career in Nippon Professional Baseball, he went 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA while striking out 1,238 over 1,315 innings. Tanaka also recorded the most consecutive victories in NPB history with 21 in his final season with the Rakuten Eagles. Tanaka also recorded two Eiji Sawamura awards, which is awarded to the top pitcher of the league. With all of Tanaka’s accomplishments in the NPB, he signed a massive seven-year contract with the New York Yankees worth $155 million.

The two-way player phenom, Shohei Ohtani was an international sensation when he was a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters. In the 2016 season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani was dominant both at the plate and on the mound. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 67 RBIs while averaging .322, in addition to recording a 10-4 record as a starting pitcher while owning a career-low 1.86 ERA and striking out 174 over 140 innings. Ohtani went on to sign with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 for $700,000, where he is anticipated to sign a massive contract extension in 2021.

Ha-Seong Kim to the Padres

Ha-Seong Kim signing for the Padres
Ha-Seong Kim signing for the Padres – Credit:

Ha-Seong Kim debuted in the KBO at age 18 with the Nexen Heroes, who are now the Kiwoom Heroes. Kim posted a career-high 30 home runs in the 2020 season while batting .306 and knocking in 109 RBIs over 138 games. Kim sets himself apart on the base paths, where he recorded 23 stolen bases in 2020 with a 92% success rate. In 2016, Kim became only the third shortstop in KBO history to join the exclusive 20-20 club while achieving 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season.

The San Diego Padres, who are the team to beat in 2021, signed Ha-Seong Kim to a four-year contract in December 2020 worth $28 million. Kim’s goal with the Padres is to become the Rookie of the Year while capturing a World Series title in the 2021 season.

Tomoyuki Sugano’s Decision

Tomoyuki Sugano
Tomoyuki Sugano with the Yomiuri Giants – Credit: Ship1231, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Like Tanaka, Tomoyuki Sugano is also a two-time winner of the Eiji Sawamura Award. In eight seasons with the KBO’s Yomiuri Giants, Sugano has recorded a 101-49 record while posting a 2.32 ERA with 1,214 strikeouts over 1,360 innings. In the 2020 season, Sugano had a 14-2 record with a microscopic 1.97 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.

The Yomiuri Giants have long been against posting players to play internationally, especially to Major League Baseball. It was initially thought that Sugano would need to compete in the NPB for nine seasons before being eligible to play in the Majors. However, the exception was made when the Giants posted Shun Yamaguchi last year, who now plays in the MLB for the Toronto Blue Jays.

If Sugano were to sign with an MLB team, the Yomiuri Giants would receive a fee from the club that signs him of 20% for the first 25 million guaranteed money he earns. After the initial $25 million, the Giants would acquire 17.5% of Sugano’s contract up to $50 million, and then the fee would be capped at 15% after the deal exceeded $50 million.

Sugano’s fastball is between 91-93 mph and tops out around 95 mph while also throwing a nasty slider, including his ability to possess elite control. Sugano is also accustomed to pitching on a significant stage, as the Yomiuri Giants are the most prominent team of the NPB. Scouts have suggested both his talents and work ethic will allow him to get along with his teammates with ease.

With all of this said, the highly anticipated international star had until Thursday, January 7 to sign with an MLB team, though he has agreed to remain with the Yomiuri Giants. The Giants have given Sugano a four-year contract worth $40 million, though he can opt-out at the end of each season if he wishes to pursue signing with an MLB team in the future. Major League Baseball fans will have to wait for Sugano’s long-anticipated appearance, which is plausible at the conclusion of the 2021 season.

The Value of International Baseball on MLB

Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish pitching for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2007 – Credit: Darvish_20070829.JPG: Neierderivative work: Torsodog, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

There were 291 foreign-born Major League Baseball players in the 2020 season, which made up 28.1% of the league while representing 20 different countries. The 2020 season featured more international players than ever before, which shows the importance of baseball abroad. These figures showcase the number of foreign-born players, though the number of international players signing from other leagues around the world is too on the rise. Ha-Seong Kim is expected to play a significant role this year for the San Diego Padres, while the baseball world continues to wait for Tomoyuki Sugano to make a move to play in the majors at the end of the season.


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