Explaining the Japanese Posting Process and How Changes Would Impact MLB

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 6, 2013

Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka should be the first test case of a revamped posting process.
Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka should be the first test case of a revamped posting process.Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

How well do you know the Japanese posting process?

Alright, fine. You've got me. That's sort of a trick question. Because there's what the posting process was, and then there's what it could be.

If you happen to know nothing at all, what you need to know off the bat is that the posting process is a system that allows Japanese players to make an early jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball. It was put in place in the late 1990s, and has brought players like Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matusaka and Yu Darvish over to the States.

At the moment, however, the posting process is in limbo; somewhere between the old way of doing things and a new way of doing things that has yet to be finalized.

We're here to discuss both the old way and the new way that's reportedly in play, as well as what the impact of the latter would be.

How It Has Worked

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According to The Japan Times, it takes at least seven years of service time for NPB players to hit free agency. But to gain international free agency—that being free agency in which players are free to sign overseas—players need nine years of service time.

Which is a lot. Too much for some, in fact.

This is where the posting process comes into play, as it's a means for players to leave NPB for MLB before they've completed nine years of service time. Matsuzaka, for example, left after eight seasons in the NPB. Darvish left after seven NPB seasons.

Now, the posting process that's been used since the late 90s is no longer active, as David Lennon of Newsday reported in October that the agreement between NPB and MLB had expired. So with a little help from Baseball-Reference.com, what follows is a rundown of how the posting process has worked in the past. Since much of the process isn't likely to change, it's certainly worth reviewing.

BOSTON - DECEMBER 14:  (L-R) Red Sox owner John Henry and general manager Theo Epstein present Daisuke Matsuzaka with his jersey during a press conference to announce that the pitcher has signed with the Boston Red Sox on December 14, 2006 at Fenway Park
Elsa/Getty Images

The first step in a player being posted involves the player and his NPB team agreeing to go through with it. The player has typically been the driving force, as his incentive is to go play with the best of the best overseas for a good chunk of change. 

The player's club doesn't have to agree to post him. The alternative, however, is keeping him around until his nine years are up and he leaves as a free agent, in which case there won't be any compensation. When an NPB club posts a player, the idea is to get something while the getting is good.

The posting system has called for players to be posted between November 1 and March 1. Once all involved parties—the NPB Commissioner's office, MLB and all MLB teams—are in on what's happening, the posting becomes official and a four-day window opens up for MLB teams to submit silent bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the posted player.

Once the window closes, the highest bid is revealed to the NPB team that posted the player with a four-day window to accept or reject it. If rejected, the player is drawn back. If accepted, a 30-day window opens up for the player to strike a deal with the MLB team that submitted the winning bid.

If that 30-day window fails to result in an agreement, then the player returns to his NPB club. Which, in turn, doesn't get the winning bid money. But if an agreement is reached, the MLB team gets the player and the NPB team that posted him gets the bid money.

Again, much of this is likely to remain the same even after NPB and MLB finally come to a new agreement. But while minor on paper, the changes that are being kicked around would loom large in the grand scheme of things.

How It Could Soon Work

If the old posting system favored one party in the whole charade, it was the NPB team that agreed to post the player. As long as the player eventually went to the States, his old team was going to get a huge pile of cash.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, this is one of the things that could change in the new system:

Reading between the lines, the new system could involve some of the bid money going toward the player rather than all to his NPB club. 

That's unlikely to be the only change, however.

Jan 20, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish poses for a photo with manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels after a press conference at Rangers Ballpark.  Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If the old system was least fair to one party, it was the posted player. Once posted, he had no say in where he ended up in MLB. Once the Boston Red Sox submitted a winning bid of $51.1 million for Matsuzaka, he could only negotiate with them. Same goes for Darvish after the Texas Rangers bid $51.7 million for him

This may be a thing of the past under the new system.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post has the most recent say on the matter, and here's what he reported in late October:

There had been speculation the system would undergo radical changes, with perhaps even the teams with the three highest posting bids all gaining the rights to negotiate with the players. I have been told there will be alterations in the process, but still only one team will win the post and have exclusive negotiating rights.

It is possible, as a way to give the player more power to chose his destination, he might get to pick a singular team from, say, the top two or three bidders.

So rather than the highest bidder automatically getting exclusive negotiating rights, the winning bidder would be up to the player. He wouldn't necessarily have to choose the highest bidder.

And This Means...

In short: an element of choice for the posted player, and a chance for more shallow-pocketed MLB teams to swipe a talented player from the clutches of a more deep-pocketed team.

For the player choice element, consider Dice-K's scenario back in 2006. The Red Sox indicated with their huge bid that they wanted him badly, but ESPN.com noted that the New York Mets made a strong bid of their own. The Rangers and Chicago Cubs were also thought to be among the top bidders.

Had the changes that are being kicked around now been in place back then, maybe Dice-K doesn't choose to negotiate with the Red Sox. Assuming any one of them could have finished with a top two or three bid and was sincere about signing him, Dice-K could have chosen to negotiate with the Mets, Rangers or Cubs.

That's part of the beauty of the notion floated by Sherman. If it's made, the posting process will be as much about a player choosing an MLB team as it is about an MLB team choosing a player.

Then there's the competitive balance aspect of the possible changes. If they're made, then the door will be open for a team to land an elite player without paying an elite price.

Take Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles star Masahiro Tanaka, for example. The 25-year-old right-hander is going to be a hot item once a revamped posting system is in place, with one National League executive telling telling Jeff Passan that Tanaka might command a $100 million posting fee. 

Posting fees don't count toward the luxury tax, and the New York Yankees need starting pitching, so it was no surprise when George A. King III of the New York Post reported in October that they are expected to be "serious players" in the Tanaka sweepstakes. 

But let's imagine a scenario in which the Yankees bid $100 million, and Team X only bids, say, $80 million. Team X wouldn't have had a shot at Tanaka under the old system. But if the notion that Sherman put on the table comes to fruition, it's possible Team X would have a shot at Tanaka under the new system.

A scenario like that could indeed benefit Tanaka as well. Less money used up in the initial bid to negotiate for his services could mean more money put into his contract.

Granted, a posted player choosing to negotiate with a team that had made a lesser bid wouldn't be ideal for his NPB team. Assuming things stay the way they were in the old system, said NPB team wouldn't be required to accept the player's choice of the winning bid. It could just pull him back.

Because of that complication, the proposal put on the table by Sherman—that a player could choose one team to negotiate with out of the two or three highest bidders—would more than likely result in an agreement that allows a player to choose from only the top two bidders rather than the top three.

All the same, the player would still have a choice in the matter, and the door would still be open a crack for the team that made the highest bid to be spurned in favor of a team that made a lesser bid.

It's still not flat-out free agency. But if posted players are given a choice to play in a preferred destination while less rich teams are given a fighting chance, the posting process will certainly resemble free agency a lot more than it has in the past.

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