Major League Baseball: A History of the Posting System, and How to Fix It

Jim WeihofenCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2011

Yu Darvish is the latest in a long line of Japanese stars to come to the United States.
Yu Darvish is the latest in a long line of Japanese stars to come to the United States.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As Major League Baseball fans currently await the terms of Yu Darvish's seemingly inevitable contract with the Texas Rangers—and to a lesser extent the contracts of Hiroyuki Nakajima and Norichika Aoki—the criticisms of the posting system agreed upon between Major League Baseball and Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league arise once again.

Last year, the Oakland Athletics won the bidding for Japanese starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma with a bid of $19.1 million, however, contract negotiations broke down, Oakland was returned their money, and Iwakuma returned to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Off the bat, this raised controversy over the posting system's failures, in that Iwakuma was unable to bring his talents to Major League Baseball due to differences over his potential salary with Oakland.

This year, there were rumors swirling that the Toronto Blue Jays may have planned on outbidding everyone for Yu Darvish's rights, simply to block other teams from signing him for at least a year. While this didn't happen, a lot of people in the baseball industry felt that a move like that, coupled with the failure to bring Iwakuma over, would cause the posting system to be looked at and changed.

Originally, the posting system had good intentions, and served a quality purpose. When some Japanese players—namely Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu, and Alfonso Soriano—exploited loopholes in their contracts to come play in the U.S., their Japanese clubs were left with nothing and frustrated, as they should have been. The posting system came into play, in which Major League Baseball teams have four days to place a one-time, confidential bid on a player posted, and the winner then receives thirty days of exclusive negotiations with the player. The Japanese club only sees the amount of the winning bid before deciding on whether to allow the bid or not.

Hideki Irabu may ahve been a bust, but he was critical in breaking the barrier between NPB and MLB.
Hideki Irabu may ahve been a bust, but he was critical in breaking the barrier between NPB and MLB.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

However, even with its faults, the posting system is a far superior option to the United States—Japanese Player Contract Agreement, which came into play in 1967, following the dispute between the San Fransisco Giants and Nankai Hawks over the rights to left-handed pitcher Masanori Murakami.

Murakami was sent over to the Giants' A-ball affiliate in Fresno to learn the game, as something of an exchange student. Murakami excelled, and was eventually called up to the Giants in 1964 as a 20-year-old and became the first Japanese-born player to appear in a Major League Baseball game, having exceptional success as a reliever. Following the 1965 season, Murakami returned to Japan to fulfill his contractual obligations, despite the Giants desire to keep him on their roster. The United States—Japanese Player Contract Agreement came into play, which essentially meant that NPB players would stay in Japan, and MLB and minor leaguers would stay in North America.

Eventually, the disparity between the two leagues became more and more obvious (NPB is considered roughly the equivalent of somewhere around AA or AAA baseball today), and in the 1990's, Japan's players wanted to come stateside and try their hand at the Majors. Hideo Nomo was the first, retiring from NPB after the 1994 season to come play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, signing a 3 year, $4.3 million contract. Nomo was able to come stateside due to the NPB's reserve clause only being able to control his actions within Japanese baseball.

Ichiro was one of the first players to be posted, and has had immense success for the Seattle Mariners.
Ichiro was one of the first players to be posted, and has had immense success for the Seattle Mariners.Brandon Wade/Getty Images

The second incident leading to the posting system was Hideki Irabu, who was to be traded from the Chiba Lotte Marines to the San Diego Padres, despite Irabu's clearly desired intentions on only playing for the New York Yankees. After a lengthy series of debates, the Padres gave in after MLB sided with Irabu, who was traded to the Yankees, and promptly imploded, causing George Steinbrenner to make some not-so-flattering remarks about the portly pitcher.

The final straw was current Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, in a case more similar to Nomo than Irabu. Soriano wanted a raise from the league minimum, and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp didn't want to make this offer. Coupled with his distaste for the Japanese workout schedule, Soriano retired from NPB to pursue a career in Major League Baseball, despite the best efforts of NPB to stop MLB clubs from signing the then 22-year-old Soriano. However, there were no full rules in effect to this, and Soriano was deemed a free agent, later signing a five-year, $3.1 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Following the departure of Soriano, MLB and NPB felt a new agreement would have to come in place for NPB players wishing to come play for MLB teams and their affiliates. Orix BlueWave GM Shigeyoshi Ino would draft the posting system, which designated a clean path for NPB players to come to the North American leagues. The posting system does not apply to Japanese players who never played professionally in Japan, nor North American players going over to NPB, as these players are treated by the standard free agent (be it amateur or professional) standards.

Players such as Junichi Tazawa, who never played professionally in Japan, are not subject to the posting system.
Players such as Junichi Tazawa, who never played professionally in Japan, are not subject to the posting system.Nick Laham/Getty Images

While the posting system is admittedly a fairer balance than the previous agreements and happenings, it's still by far an imperfect system, one which should be addressed sooner rather than later. Wholly, it's not a bad system, there are parts that I like, and parts I dislike. While it will most likely never be a perfect system, I do have some ideas about how to improve it.

First off, I like the posting period of November 1 through March 1. The entirety of the off season allows NPB teams to make a difficult decision regarding posting a potential star player, especially if the team is going through a potential sale. I also like the four-day, blind bidding, though this is where I'd implement my first change. I like the concept of the blind bids, however, I feel the one-time only bid should be changed. Teams should be allowed to increase their bids as often as they like, however, once a bid is placed, it becomes irrevocable.

The next change I feel should be implemented is how the bids themselves are processed. While a small market team like Tampa Bay might not be able to muster up $30 million in cash, they could spread it out as five million a year over six years. The NPB teams would be allowed to see the terms of every bid, and, if they so choose, allow MLB teams to defer their bid payment over time. This can help teams on both sides with their budgets.

After this, the big changes come. The winning MLB club will have only 14 days, as opposed to the current period of 30 days, to negotiate with the NPB player. After one week, the NPB team will have a chance to review all the remaining bids, and pick their next choice. If after ten days there is still no agreement, the second place team will be informed of their position as next in line, if the NPB team so chooses to accept a secondary bid. If after 14 days the NPB player remains unsigned, the clock begins on the next team, and it continues until the player is signed, the NPB team runs out of what they deem to be acceptable bids, or the posting period comes to a close.

These changes serve many purposes. First, a team cannot place a sky-high bid simply to block other teams. Second, it removes a competitive imbalance between the teams with greater financial resources, and those who truly cannot afford to go over budget. Third, it creates more opportunities for an NPB player to come to North America, as opposed to a year-long wait over one team's disagreeableness with the NPB player and their agent.

While the changes I have laid out may not be a perfect system—none ever will be—I feel these do create more opportunities for both Japanese and North American teams, and NPB players to try their hand against the highest level of competition. Any further suggestions and/or criticisms are more than welcomed in the comments.