Shohei Otani shows us once again why he's about to be MLB's most prized free agent

Shohei Otani, shown here in 2015, made what could have been his final start on a Japanese mound on Wednesday night. (AP Photo)

Japanese baseball mega-star Shohei Otani could be leaving Japan behind this winter to come to the U.S. to play for a MLB team. While nothing has been formally announced yet, his start for the Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday was likely his final start in Japan, capping off a brilliant five-year career in Nippon Professional Baseball.

And if it was indeed his last start, he went out in true Otani style. The pitcher and designated hitter twirled a two-hit shutout against the Orix Buffaloes, and hit clean-up for the first time in his career. (Even in your last game, there’s a first time for everything.)

According to the Japan Times, scouts from 11 different MLB teams were there to watch the man that has been described as the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because he can hit massive homers and throw 102 mph. If you want more proof that Otani would be the most desirable free agent on the market this winter, these GIFs from Wednesday’s game, via Sung Min Kim, should give you more than a clue.





Mercy. He’s just filthy. Otani’s slider was his pitch of the game, and he told the Japan Times why:

“I felt like they were going after my fastball, so that’s why my slider worked so well.”

Otani struck out 10 in all, and you can see why. His stuff is fast and deceptive, and batters swing thinking (or hoping) they have a chance. On Wednesday, they *really* didn’t have a chance. The Japan Times reported that Otani struck out seven of the first 12 hitters he faced, and didn’t allow his first hit until the fifth inning. Otani was on his game, but in more ways than one. He didn’t just baffle hitters from the mound, he also had a hit and scored a run in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ 3-0 victory.

This was an important start for Otani, and not just because it could be his last in Japan. Otani has been dealing with injuries all season, and his performance on Wednesday showed that he was pretty much back to his old dominant self.

Otani’s free agency is likely to be the most intriguing we’ve seen from a Japanese star. Because he’s an international free agent under the age of 25, MLB caps the amount teams can pay Otani. If he were 25, he’d be hauling in over $200 million, easy. But since he’s 23, the max he can sign for is about $10 million. Since Otani isn’t coming for the payday, that means the sweepstakes for his serves are wide open. Almost every team has a chance to sign him, which should make for a fun offseason.

But Wednesday night, between the dazzling pitching, the hitting, and the emotions of his possible final start in Japan, Otani put on a show for the fans — and for the scouts in attendance. Otani’s season may be over, but the excitement and drama about his future MLB career is just beginning.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

– – – – – –

Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

More from Yahoo Sports:
How the Yankees bullpen pulled off a wild-card miracle
Mark Cuban considering a presidential run
Soccer star apologizes for ‘rowdy’ incident at Disney World
Coach kicks players off team for protest