For now, at least, it sounds like the days of gigantic posting fees for Japanese superstars are over.
There's a chance that the result will involve said superstars staying put in Nippon Professional Baseball until they're ready for international free agency. But considering the circumstances, it's a small chance. Altered though it may be, the new posting process shouldn't keep Japan's best from coming to Major League Baseball.
We're having this conversation, of course, because there's news to report. There was rumbling on Wednesday night that NPB and MLB were nearing an agreement on a new posting system, and the Japan Times has reported on Thursday that the two leagues have reached a "basic agreement."
Here's the deal: Rather than no ceiling whatsoever, the new system will call for maximum bids of $20 million.
That means no more $50-plus million posting fees like the ones for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 and Yu Darvish in 2011, and nothing as high as the $75 million figure Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported as a possibility for Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
“A draft is being prepared and hopefully both MLB and NPB can sign an official decision,” said NPB secretary general Atsushi Ihara to the Japan Times.
Now, $20 million isn't a ton of money in this day and age. A lot of MLB teams can afford to part with that much. Here's Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com on what that means:
If multiple clubs willing to pay $20M, Japanese player can negotiate with all of them. Only the signing team will be required to pay $20M.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2013
For reasons that should be obvious, this is an outstanding deal for Japanese players. Especially the really good ones like Tanaka.
What's easy to forget about Matsuzaka and Darvish is that their actual contracts were fairly subdued after $50 million was spent just to acquire their exclusive negotiating rights. Dice-K ended up with $52 million over six years from the Boston Red Sox. With the Texas Rangers, Darvish signed for $60 million over six years. At an average annual value of $10 million, he's one of the most underpaid pitchers in the business right now.
With the max bid set at $20 million, however, clubs are going to have extra cash to put into the player's contract. On top of that, several teams involved in the bidding instead of just one is a system that makes bidding wars possible. Much more than it was before, the posting process is going to be more akin to actual free agency for Japanese players.
The result for a player of Tanaka's talent could be a $100 million contract rather than, say, a $60-70 million contract. And once the signal goes up that contracts like that can be had via the posting process, the best players in Japan will only be in a bigger hurry to be posted.
Be that as it may, posting isn't up to the player. It's up to his team, and that's where the new agreement could conceivably lead to complications.
While it's great that the new agreement should mean more money for the players, imagine you're an NPB team with a superstar with the same appeal as a Matsuzaka or a Darvish. You could have gotten over $50 million for him in the old system. Now you only stand to get $20 million.
For an NPB club with a star player asking to be posted, the question is bound to pop up: Why not just keep him?
Tanaka and the Rakuten Golden Eagles are a perfect example. What Peter Gammons tweeted out on Wednesday night came as no surprise:
Not only are Rakuten Golden Eagles opposed to ever-changing US posting rules, but tonight leaning against posting Tanaka, period.— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 5, 2013
“We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it’s fair,” Tachibana said, adding: “There’s a possibility we won’t take the next step."
It must be understood that Rakuten doesn't have to post Tanaka this winter. It takes nine years for Japanese players to qualify for international free agency, which grants them the ability to sign contracts overseas with no strings attached. Tanaka only has seven years under his belt.
So in him, Rakuten has a player whose departure isn't imminent. The club could just as easily decide that Tanaka is worth more to it than $20 million and hold on to him for one more season or maybe even two more seasons.
However, Ken Rosenthal has tweeted that MLB expects Tanaka to be posted, and Ben Badler of Baseball America has heard from sources that he likely will be:
Japanese media reports say Rakuten is mulling over the new rules and discussing whether to post Tanaka. My sources think they'll post him.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) December 5, 2013
If Rakuten does post Tanaka, it will be taking the "better safe than sorry" route. The whole idea of the posting process, after all, is for NPB clubs to get something for their best players while the getting is good. And for Rakuten, there's certainly a chance it might not get better than $20 million.
Say Rakuten chooses not to post Tanaka until next winter, when his departure via international free agency will be imminent with eight years served out of the requisite nine. The risk will be having his value ruined by a poor season or, worse, a major arm or shoulder injury.
That same concern is going to be there for any club with a star player who wants to be posted a couple years before international free agency. On top of that, Dylan Hernandez says clubs will face pressure from the public to move forward with the posting:
However, if the Golden Eagles don’t make Tanaka available immediately, they will certainly face a significant backlash from the Japanese public. The fear of such a reaction was said to be a significant factor in making NPB cave to MLB’s demands.
The incentive for NPB clubs to take what they can get for their star players has certainly been lessened by the new agreement, but it still exists. And if public pressure to post players is another incentive, then it seems unlikely that the new agreement will squeeze or altogether stop the flow of star players coming to MLB from NPB via the posting process.
Though it favors star Japanese players more than their teams, the new posting system should keep doing the same job as the old one.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.