Thoughts on the NPB Posting Process
Thoughts on the NPB Posting Process
The Yu Darvish bidding ended last night and I noticed a lot of complaints about the posting system used with NPB players. As I wrote in November, Hideki Irabu played a similar role to Curt Flood as his transition to the United States in 1997 was extremely volatile.
That year, the San Diego Padres signed a working agreement with the Chiba Lotte Marines, which gave them exclusive signing rights to Irabu. It was well know that Irabu only wanted to play for the Yankees, but the Marines made this nearly impossible. They offered him to the Yanks in exchange for Cecil Fielder knowing the offer would be rejected. His rights were then traded to San Diego, but Irabu refused to cooperate. He thought about playing in NPB until he was a free agent (10 years) or possibly taking his case to the U.S. courts. San Diego relented and eventually traded him to the Yankees for Ruben Rivera.
Irabu looks like the bad guy, but both sides are wrong. The Marines had a working agreement with San Diego, so they naturally wanted to make a deal with them. Irabu was only interested in playing for the Yankees, so his focus was forcing the Marines hand (kind of sounds like the current NBA). Hideo Nomo and Alfonso Soriano had similar situations where they elected to “retire” in order to get out of their 10-year commitment to NPB. It was a farce, as all they wanted to do is play in the U.S.
After the ’98 season Bud Selig and NPB Commissioner Hiromori Kawashima signed a new agreement. It required MLB teams to place secret “bids” for NPB players. These bids were transfer fees that are paid as compensation to NPB teams whose star players sign with the MLB. NPB players are also allowed to negotiate with MLB teams over the terms of their new contracts. The agreement is in effect on a year-to-year basis, terminable at the option of either the MLB Commissioner or the NPB Commissioner.
With the posting of Yu Darvish, complaints have started about how the process is unfair. Scott Boras called the system “a failure,” mainly because the player doesn’t have freedom to shop their talents around. A team could place a bid, win, and if the two sides don’t come to an agreement, then the MLB teams gets their posting fee back and the player returns to his NPB club. It gives leverage to the MLB team, as they can then lowball the NPB player due to exclusive negotiating rights. Look at the recent posting of Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The Yankees won the posting with a modest $2 million dollar bid, but view Nakajima as a backup. Nakajima’s agent has explored the possibility of a ”sign and trade” or his client will likely return to Japan. We heard some rumblings here the only reason the Yankees bid on Nakajima was to keep him away from Boston, who reportedly had interest. If true, this is exactly the kind of situation that exposes the flaws in the current system.
I don’t think you could have a completely free market with the NPB. The East and West coast teams have an immediate advantage. The West Coast because of its large Japanese communities; the East Coast because of the presence of the Yankees and Red Sox. A free market will narrow most stars interests to the Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Yankees, and Red Sox; and to a lesser extent- Oakland and San Diego.
Obviously, Dominican and Cuban ballplayers have long been free to peddle their talents in an open system. If we had free relations with Cuba, I suspect a similar NPB system would need to be in place to prevent the Yankees and Red Sox from securing all the top talent. You can’t have a league where the best talent is earmarked to a handful of teams.
In a recent NY Times article, Scott Boras suggested a “sliding scale whereby Japanese players can negotiate with any team and their Japanese teams would receive a percentage of the contract. For instance, if a player leaves after one year, the Japanese team would get 80 percent of the contract, 50 percent after five years and 20 percent with just one year remaining before free agency.” Again, this would favor the small collection of East and West Coast teams. It’s no surprise that Boras, as an agent, would suggest such a solution.
It’s clear with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that we are headed towards an International Draft. There is no way the union was going to allow the amateur draft to be subjected to a virtual hard slot with the newly imposed signing budget that every team will be assigned. It’s a matter of when, and I think it’s necessary if you are going to abolish the NPB posting system. It would probably have to modified from the version used in the U.S. since Japanese teams are going to be required some type of compensation. Perhaps their compensation could be considered a “signing bonus” and subjected to whatever budget is established. Clearly, it’s going to have to be more than what is allotted in the States, as the top teams in the draft can only spend $11 million dollars or so before the tax kicks in.
It’s not an easy solution, specifically with Japanese players. I agree with Boras’ assertion in that same NY Times article that Japanese players need to be comfortable where they play because of the difficult transition. Put yourself in their shoes and go to Japan where the language, food, and culture are opposite to what you’ve experience here. Then try to work at a demanding high stress job that is on display to the public. Not easy. With that said, going back to a completely free market would negatively impact the NPB, as we saw in the Nomo, Irabu, and Soriano situations, and give large market clubs an unfair competitive advantage.
Bud Selig has another of his famous committees working on a solution to this and the International Draft. Until then, there needs to be a posting system since it’s the fairest way to transfer talent from the NPB to MLB.By Mike Silva
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