OK. So while we’ve all expected Shohei Otani to move to the majors at the end of this year, Major League Baseball may be in the process of wrecking that prospect.
Four years after MLB last took Nippon Professional Baseball teams to the cleaners ahead of Masahiro Tanaka’s posting, MLB is looking to renegotiate its sweetheart posting deal with NPB, a source told Kyodo News this week.
In the winter of 2013, just days prior to the anticipated posting of Tanaka, currently the ace of the New York Yankees, the Rakuten Eagles’ expected posting wind fall went from a possible $100 million to $20 million as the Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks pressured other NPB clubs to agree to a new deal that was friendlier to MLB. And now MLB is at it again.
Small-market MLB teams had been unhappy with the pre-2013 deal that saw the winners of closed bids pay in the area of $50 million for the exclusive negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. Because money paid to NPB teams in posting fees don’t count against MLB’s luxury tax, it was a tax dodge for clubs willing to break the bank for overseas talent.
The current system allows every team to negotiate with a posted player provided it is willing to pay the posting fee demanded by his NPB team up to a maximum of $20 million. This drives down the amount that rich clubs can shelter from the luxury tax but does nothing to make high-value foreign talent more accessible to small-market teams since posted players are now able to sign with the highest bidder.
Four years after the Giants and Hawks conspired with MLB to get NPB to agree to a lousy posting system for Japan’s other teams, they can again be counted on to ram another lousy deal down their fellow owners’ throats just in time, perhaps, to prevent the most interesting baseball player in the world, Otani, from leaving NPB.
MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement prevents a bidding war this year for the 23-year-old slugging ace pitcher by treating him as an amateur until he’s 25. Otani is still in Japan as arguably the country’s best pitcher and its best hitter BECAUSE the Nippon Ham Fighters agreed to post him when he is ready. Manager Hideki Kuriyama told a press conference in Tokyo last winter that his plan was to give Otani a shortcut to the majors.
At last year’s winter meetings outside Washington, an MLB executive said that while Cuban pros rather than Otani were the reason for the new CBA. The CBA reduces his posting payday from somewhere in the $200 million-to-$300 million range to something in the area of a maximum of $10.5 million.
Otani had wanted to sign directly with a major league team as an amateur, but didn’t, and one gets the impression that MLB is not happy about that. By closing the opportunity of teams like Nippon Ham to offer another superstar a similar shortcut, MLB is hoping that more amateurs skip NPB altogether, sign for small amounts on standard seven-year minor league deals — and demolishing the posting system is one way toward that end.
Of course, since the advent of the new CBA, some American writers have speculated that an exemption might be in the works to ensure Otani comes, since MLB does want him to come, MLB might actually want to sweeten the posting fee for players it considers amateurs, although that seems highly unlikely.