Throughout the offseason, Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have been busy negotiating a new agreement that would affect how Japanese players migrate to America. Under the old system, a Japanese team would “post” a player — put him on the market — and a four-day silent auction would be held between the 30 major league teams. Then, the team that placed the highest bid would earn the right to negotiate exclusively with the posted player. The winning bid would be payed as a lump sum directly to the team, with the player seeing none of that money. The posted player would have two choices — to negotiate a contract with the winning bidder, or head back to Japan, hat in hand. The system severely limited the potential earnings of the player, but provided a financial windfall for NPB teams; the winning bid for Yu Darvish, posted by the NPB’s Nippon-Ham Fighters in the 2011 offseason, was a record $51.7 million. To put that in perspective, the payroll for the entire Fighters team in 2011 was only 2,644.4 million Yen, or approximately 25.3 million USD.
The new agreement, announced officially three days ago, makes the process far less lucrative for the NPB. Here are the new rules:
The most impactful change? While MLB teams will still bid on posted players, the bidding will be capped at $20 million. While $20 million isn’t nothing, it’s a far cry from the $51.7 million received for Darvish, and more importantly, it puts a cap on the posting fee at a time when the fee seemed likely to rise exponentially. Additionally, if a player has multiple bids at the $20 million threshold, he is allowed to negotiate with any of the teams who placed the $20 million bid. No longer is this an exclusive negotiation — it is now something more akin to free agency.
All of this brings us to Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka, the 25-year old ace of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, had himself a season for the ages in 2013. He went 24-0 in the regular season, breaking a record for most consecutive wins in professional baseball that had been held by Carl Hubbell for 76 years. His ERA seems like a typographical error — 1.27. And he almost singlehandedly led his team to victory in the Japan Series, the World Series of Japanese baseball. Tanaka has a great deal of interest in jumping to the MLB, and in fact asked the Golden Eagles to post him this offseason. But the Eagles have been weighing the decision to post Tanaka in light of the new agreement, and today, we heard this:
And why should they? The maximum the team could receive from posting Tanaka is $20 million. But Tanaka is a star — not only in pitching prowess, but in marketability. He is likely worth more than $20 million to the Eagles, who are planning on offering him a record salary (of around $8 million) to have him stay in Japan. The deal removes much of the financial incentive for Japanese teams to post marquee players such as Tanaka. But there’s further reason for NPB teams to dislike the new agreement. From Peter Gammons:
The new agreement is great for NPB players who are looking for better financial compensation stateside. But the lowered posting fee, which as compared to the previous arrangement looks like a mere pittance, changes the nature of the relationship between the MLB and NPB. Unless NPB teams can hold on to their biggest and brightest stars, the NPB will become little more than a training ground for the MLB — a minor league.