The top free-agent pitcher on the market in Major League Baseball, Japan's Masahiro Tanaka, might be blocked from coming to the United States for the 2014 season. Major league owners reportedly are having trouble agreeing with Nippon Professional Baseball on the compensation system that brings elite players from Japan to the West.
Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 27 starts for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Pacific League, has been expected to be the most expensive import in NPB-MLB history, eclipsing the salary and posting fee totaling $111.7 million incurred by the Texas Rangers when they added Yu Darvish before the 2012 season.
The posting fee and how it's arrived at, reports Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, is where the trouble lies:
As was the case with the old posting system, the new proposal called for Japanese players to be auctioned, with the major-league team submitting the top bid gaining the exclusive negotiating rights. The posting fee -- the fee paid to a player’s Japanese league team -- was to fall between the top bid and the runner-up bid. The major-league team that won the rights to negotiate with a player would have been fined if it failed to sign the player.
An agreement is needed between MLB, NPB officials and Japan's players union, and progress has been slow. If the differences aren't settled soon, Tanaka won't be available for the 2014 season. The New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and other high rollers were expected to bid on him. The Yankees don't mind paying a posting fee, in a way, because it's not applicable to a player's salary, and thus not attached to a payroll tax threshold that would force them to kick in even more money.
Some MLB owners want to eliminate the posting system entirely but, under Japan's rules, only ballplayers there who have accumulated nine years of service time can bypass the posting system. Sure — eliminating the posting system would save a club $50 million here or there, but it probably would mean players like Darvish, Tanaka and Ichiro Suzuki wouldn't be allowed to play in North America until they were past their primes.
Unless, of course, Japan's players union balks and gets more flexibility in their negotiations with their owners.
MLB's Rob Manfred, likely to be MLB's next commissioner, says that's OK with him if there's no posting system:
“If that’s the way we get Japanese professionals, I think that the 30 major-league clubs are prepared to live with that result,” Manfred said.
Does that really make for a better MLB? Not having Darvish and Ichiro and players like them available in their primes? No. It just saves some owners some money.
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- Masahiro Tanaka
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