Thanks to the way the new posting system works, there should be more excitement whenever a Japanese star is made available for Major League Baseball clubs.
A deal between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball is finally official. The Japan Times reported earlier Monday that the NPB formally agreed to the proposal on the table, and Mike Teevan of MLB's Public Relations department passed along word that MLB's Executive Council had signed off on it as well:
MLB COO Rob Manfred said, via MLB.com:
We are pleased to have amicably reached an agreement that addresses various issues raised by all parties. Major League Baseball values its longstanding professional relationship with Nippon Professional Baseball, and we look forward to continuing the growth of the great game we share in the years to come.
The old posting system, which certainly favored NPB clubs, called for MLB teams to make blind bids for posted players. The team that bid the most received exclusive negotiating rights, with the posting club receiving payment once the player and his new team signed a contract.
The new posting system is radically different. And because it means—for at least the next three years, anyway—we've seen the last of extraordinarily high posting fees and exclusive negotiating rights, it's radically different in a way that favors MLB teams and posted players for a change.
To the first point, we're not going to see $50 million bids like we did with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 and Yu Darvish in 2011. Nor are we going to see the $75 million posting fee that Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports floated as a possibility for Masahiro Tanaka should the Rakuten Golden Eagles choose to post the star right-hander.
The advantage of capping the bidding at $20 million is that not just one or a small handful of MLB teams will be able to get in the mix for posted stars. In a day and age when money is flowing from local TV deals, national TV deals and MLB Advanced Media, a lot of teams can afford to part with $20 million.
In addition, less money spent on the posting fee means more money to put into a posted player's contract. As for what that means, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times hit the nail on the head:
It's now conceivable that a small-market club will be able to outbid a big-market club for a posted star. This seems especially possible with Tanaka if he's posted, as top suitors like the Yankees and Dodgers would have to worry about how a big contract would impact their luxury-tax status.
Elsewhere, any bidding at all is certainly beneficial to the players themselves.
It cost the Red Sox over $51 million to win Dice-K's rights, and the Rangers bid just under $52 million to win Darvish's rights. Those deeds done, there was only so much to invest in the pitchers themselves.
Matsuzaka got $52 million over six years. Darvish got $60 million over six years. Good money for unproven players, sure, but modest deals for experienced pitchers perceived as aces.
This won't be the case if Tanaka is posted. He's perceived not only as an ace, but also as the only real ace to be had this winter. With a smaller bid required for teams to get their foot in the door, a contract as large as $100 million would be in the cards for the 25-year-old.
If it sounds like that's taking too much for granted, there's more to the picture than just Tanaka's perceived excellence.
For one, MLB's latest collective bargaining agreement restricts how much money teams can spend on draft picks and international amateurs. For two, plenty of elite talent is being kept off the free-agent market by the extension boom.
It's a tricky situation: There's more money to invest in free agency but less outstanding talent to invest it in. Aside from players like Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury, the best teams can do is invest big bucks in players who might be outstanding talents.
Tanaka fits the bill. So will the other NPB superstars who become available via the posting process.
There's surely an alternate reality where the new posting agreement leads to MLB being overrun with Japanese talent, a result of the best players wanting to be posted as soon as possible so they can go strike it rich in MLB.
In our reality, however, the flow of talent coming via the posting system is likely to remain a trickle.
If you've been wondering why NPB owners would agree to such a player- and MLB-friendly arrangement, Patrick Newman of NPBTracker.com noted that some NPB owners "don’t recognize the Posting System and refuse to use it." The new agreement presumably won't change their minds.
As for the owners who do recognize the posting system, don't expect them to open the floodgates.
Individual players should continue to come through, as the incentive for clubs to get something for their top players before they serve their nine years and leave via international free agency is still there. And since NPB clubs decide the posting fee, don't be surprised when players who might have been posted for, say, $5 million under the old structure are posted for much more under the new system.
As for superstars like Tanaka, $20 million is still decent money, and it's better than nothing to boot.
And yes, there's also the chance a club might get more than $20 million for its trouble. ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that other NPB clubs might be willing to send money Rakuten's way to convince it to post Tanaka. Perhaps that will become a trend.
As well, Jeff Passan has noted that the expectation is that NPB clubs will ultimately respect the decisions of their top players. There's also an element of public pressure to the posting process.
"The rabid Japanese fans are eager to see their stars test their skills and succeed in the majors," wrote Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today.
Hence the reasons I'm willing to go out on a limb that the new agreement won't block stars who can be posted from coming to the States. The potential for NPB clubs to score big isn't what it used to be, but there are still incentives for them to go through with the posting process.
However, clubs have to set a limit somewhere.
Presumably, the NPB clubs willing to use the posting system will draw a line in situations where several or all of their best stars are lining up to be posted. Even if a club sees a chance to demand a $20 million fee for multiple players, it will also see that money can only do so much to repair a decimated roster.
As such, the new posting agreement probably won't lead to a mass exodus of talent from Japan and, thus, significantly more excitement being made by Japanese players out on MLB fields. The excitement allowed by the new system will be all on the business front.
Maybe it will be different when the new agreement expires in three years. Perhaps NPB and MLB will get together and decide that they still haven't reached a system that's fair for all parties and will overhaul the structure of the posting system again.
For now, though, you can look forward to the new posting agreement adding intrigue to MLB's offseason in a way that it just couldn't before.
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