NPB sells itself short Chapter 11: The new posting system and the future

By Jim Allen

What just happened?

By using Shohei Otani’s posting as leverage, the Major League Baseball Players Association has gotten Nippon Professional Baseball–to paraphrase one NPB team executive–to bend over and take it again.

The new posting agreement according to the Associated Press, changes future postings to a fixed scale at the following rates based on the value of the contract:

  • 20 percent of the 1st $25 million.
  • 17.5 percent of the next $25 million.
  • 15 percent of the remainder.

During negotiations, the “value of the contract” was construed by NPB as the maximum amount of signing bonus, salary and incentives on the table, however that definition may have changed during the negotiation–or it may have been a misconception given the limited abilities of NPB’s negotiators.

For players signing as under-25-year-old CBAmateurs such as Otani, the posting fee will be limited to 25 percent of the signing bonus.

In exchange for an enhanced posting fee schedule–it had been changed from a team-set amount up to $20 million to 15 percent of the total, NPB teams give up the right to reclaim a player who signs a contract that does not give them enough in return. There also appeared to be a proposal that would giveNPB teams an amount equal to some percent of a CBAmateur’s eventual major league deal, and that has not been reported as part of the new agreement.

What does it mean going forward?

Barry Bloom @Boomskie has suggested that the MLBPA wants NPB to adopt six-year free agency, which as much as that would be a good thing, is none of the MLBPA’s goddamn business.

As I’ve reported before, NPB’s useless commissioner, Katsuhiko Kumazaki, told an NPB executive committee meeting that he asked MLB commissioner Rob Manfred this past summer to increase the posting fee cap–to which Manfred was said to have answered, “We don’t want a posting system at all, because it’s not good for Japanese baseball.”

Kumazaki took this to mean that Manfred cares about Japanese baseball, and in the same way a cat cares about the bird that is almost within its grasp, Manfred does.

What MLB cares about is 1) treating overseas talent as badly as it treats domestic amateur talent, and 2) eliminating compensation to Japanese teams wishing to do with future young stars what the Nippon Ham Fighters did with Shohei Otani–make him MLB ready in 4 years.

Anyone who might have thought the Fighters were happy to move Otani in order to receive $20 million needs to rethink this. Otani is an extremely valuable player where he is and the Fighters would benefit much more by keeping him then selling him. But that was the promise they made when he signed with them instead of turning pro with a major league club at the age of 18 as he intended.

So if Japan’s next 18-year-old superstar can’t go to the States until he turns 25, will he stay in Japan or might he move to the majors as an amateur and sign for peanuts?

So far, the bulk of NPB’s talent transfer has been from pitchers. Why?

Because pitching in Japan is different but not THAT different. Japanese pitchers and hitters both have to make huge adjustments to the travel and conditioning demands when pulled from their five-game-a-week routine.

Both have to adjust to a more demanding competition and different kinds of approaches, but batters have to get used to velocity you don’t see daily in Japan and to movement experienced practitioners with the slicker MLB ball can give their straight pitches. This is a huge adjustment. People know that Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui found success here, but Suzuki is a fairly unique talent who went over at the age of 27, Matsui after he turned 28. Otani is interesting as a hitter BECAUSE he’s 23 and about as good a hitter as Matsui was at the same age.

So what if it does behoove Japanese batters to go abroad early when Japanese batting talent is so thin?

Well, one area where Japanese hitters have lagged far behind is strength training. As few as three NPB teams actually intervene in their young players’ strength training, believing it is unwise to sacrifice power for flexibility. Otani is an exception, and so is a growing wave of amateur sluggers like first baseman Kotaro Kiyomiya–who ironically will take Otani’s place on Nippon Ham’s roster next spring.

This year four hard-hitting high schoolers were taken in the first round,  while another five position players went in the second, both fairly large numbers for the top rounds in an NPB draft. As Japanese amateur ball catches up, and more youngsters see MLB as their future, we may see those in the States look for new ways to get them to bypass NPB.

That’s really not ideal for anyone. Because there are things a player can learn in NPB that he cannot learn in the U.S. minors or majors.

If you’re a high-caliber 18-year-old like Otani was, NPB gives you the ability to bat against some of the best pitchers in the world while not getting entirely overwhelmed and completely discouraged because NPB’s talent floor is lower than MLB’s. Pitchers have the same advantage. How many 18-year-old pros in Japan get to pitch against some of the best hitters in the world on a daily basis?

There’s also the different environment. Playing in Japan, hitters will see breaking balls you don’t see in the States, pitchers face extreme contact hitters you don’t see in the States. Fundamentals are hammered home.

Anybody going straight from Japan to the majors will be missing NPB’s baseball graduate program that has produced not only Japanese major leaguers, but has also redeveloped former big leaguers for MLB. It would be a mistake to think that those lessons are a waste.

What’s up with the posting system?

By Jim Allen

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the current state of the posting system negotiations and the system in general, and I’ll try to clarify those things I can.

1) The current hangup is not about Shohei Otani

Despite reports by @JonHeyman that players were concerned about the gap between Otani’s minimal compensation as an under-25 “CBAmateur” and the $20 million posting fee already agreed upon with Nippon Ham, any MLBPA member taking umbrage with that, deserves a kick in the ass.

When the union agreed with MLB to raise the age at which overseas professionals would be treated as amateurs from 23 to 25, it limited Otani’s earning power in 2018 to much less than the $20 million the Fighters could ask through this year. There was concern prior to Otani’s retaining an MLBPA-certified agent that he was not aware he was throwing away 100s of millions of dollars by going when he was 23.

But that is to be expected, since everyone in MLB and its related media elite KNEW Otani would not come this year, just as they knew water didn’t run uphill, because no one in MLB would do that. @Ken_Rosenthal said it, Jon Heyman said. You name him (with the exception of Barry Bloom @Boomskie) he probably said it. They knew. Except they didn’t.

It IS about Shohei Otani only because he’s the most intriguing player on the planet at this moment, and holding up his transfer gives the union something to draw attention to their objection — except they have been reluctant to say what those objections are in public.

2) The posting system proposed by MLB/MLBPA prevents Japanese teams from naming a price for their players.

This is Exhibit 1,405 of how much MLB hates free markets. The posting system used to be a kind of free market. The high bid in a closed auction that met or exceeded the posting fee asked by a player’s NPB team meant allowed one team a one month window to sign a player before his rights reverted to his Japanese team.

This was not very efficient. Two players, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Hisashi Iwakuma,  failed to reach contracts with the team that won their rights and returned to Japan. MLB teams didn’t like it because exorbitant posting fees didn’t fall under the luxury tax, which favored big-spending clubs. After $50 million fees to the Seibu Lions and Nippon Ham Fighters for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, MLB was in mind to have to shell out a likely $100 million for Masahiro Tanaka – so it wanted a $20-million cap.

So while 10 of NPB’s teams held Rakuten steady, MLB stabbed the Eagles in the back, and Masahiro Tanaka was, however, able to negotiate with up to 30 teams before signing with the Yankees for $155 million – which was a good thing.

The newly proposed system, however, changes compensation for teams willing to part with players under contract to 15 percent of the total contract offered to a posted player by an MLB team. This would mean Japanese teams must relinquish their limited right to ask for up to $20 million and instead accept whatever their 15 percent cut is.

3) When we slap you, you’ll take it and like it.

According to Ken Rosenthal, and confirmed by other sources, the union is opposed to NPB being able to rescind a posting should it’s 15 percent fee falls below a number it is willing to accept. Since MLB agreed to this but the MLBPA is opposed, one can guess that this proposal was offered to NPB at the union’s request and rejected, quite reasonably by NPB.

The 15 percent cut would represent a modest increase for A-listers – Tanaka’s $155 million would have pulled in $23.25 million for Rakuten. But the Hiroshima Carp would have received $15.93 million instead of $20 million for Kenta Maeda.

4) There is a mysterious 20 percent figure that seems to be an issue

I have heard repeated reference to a 20 percent posting fee to teams posting those under-25 CBAmateurs, but how it is calculated, what it is based on and when it would be paid has not been clearly explained to me. The MLBPA appears opposed to this to.

5) The CBA and the new posting system appear to have been planned as a package last year.

At last year’s winter meetings, MLB made it perfectly clear that there would be no exception to Shohei Otani’s CBAmateur status should he try and come to the majors in 2018 – and they KNEW he wouldn’t. Yet, Barry Bloom told me then that there was an exemption in place for Otani. That exemption turned out to be an agreement with Nippon Ham that whatever changes might be made to the posting system, that Otani’s fee would still be $20 million.

The same top MLB executive who helped negotiate the CBA and told me at the 2016 winter meetings  Otani’s name never once came up in discussions about it, also told me that there was no way Otani would move to the majors in 2018, because you know, nobody would do that.

Golden Glove voting

Here’s how I voted for this year’s Golden Glove Awards

Central League
Pitcher: Takumi Akiyama, Tigers
I would have prefered Nomi, but he’s not on the ballot. Shoichi Ino and Kazuto Taguchi also appear to be deserving winners.
Catcher: Ryutaro Umeno of the Tigers.
More playing time would have made Umeno a no-doubt selection this season over Seiji Kobayashi and Yasutaka Tobashira…
1st Base: Jose Lopez, BayStars.
2nd Base: Tetsuto Yamada, Swallows.
Ryusuke Kikuchi was well off his game this year. He still makes lots of fantastic plays, but he was well off his norms, while Yamada – has become increasingly dependable.
3rd Base: Toshiro Miyazaki, BayStars. Tomohiro Abe of the Carp probably wins this if he spent more time at 3B.
SS: Hayato Sakamoto, Giants.
Sakamoto took a stride forward from last year, when he was about even with Kosuke Tanaka of the Carp.
OF: Masayuki Kuwahara, BayStars
OF: Takayuki Kajitani, BayStars
OF: Yoshihiro Maru, Carp.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo had a terrific year and should get some votes, although Yang Dai-kang was probably the CL’s best outfielder in terms of quality.

Golden Glove
Pacific League

Pitcher: Hideaki Wakui, Marines.
He NEVER hurts himself with his fielding.
Catcher: Tatsuhiro Tamura, Marines
This is really a tough choice. There are indications Kai was a little better defensively, but Tamura played a LOT more, so he deserves credit for that.
1st Base: Sho Nakata, Fighters.
2nd Base: Daichi Suzuki, Marines
3rd Base: Nobuhiro Matsuda, Hawks
Zelous Wheeler had a great season and should get some votes.
SS: Kenta Imamiya, Hawks.
Takuya Nakashima missed playing time, while Ryoichi Adachi was fit and playing well. This could be the most interesting race of all next year if Sosuke Genda cuts down on his errors, since he could be right there among those three.
OF: Haruki Nishikawa, Fighters
OF: Yuki Yanagita, Hawks
OF: Shogo Akiyama, Lions
An off year for Shogo Akiyama, and Hiroaki Shimauchi of the Eagles could easily have gotten a vote instead of him, while Akira Nakamura had an excellente season for the Hawks as well.

Why Sarfate and not Kikuchi?

So why does Yusei Kikuchi play second fiddle to Dennis Sarfate in win shares? The essential answer is context.

First of all, it is very hard for relievers to rank so high unless they are extremely dominant and pitch a fair number of innings and get lots of saves – indicating many high leverage innings and that moves Sarfate into the conversation.

Still, the win shares system recogizes that Kikuchi was better at one level – the estimated contribution his raw numbers made to his club’s success. So why does Sarfate end up on top despite that.

The answer is wins. Not being credited with wins as the pitcher of record, but team wins.

On one level, this is a normal part of the system: Teams that win more games have more credit for wins to be shared by their players. But in the Pacific League in 2017, the Hawks won four games more than their run production and prevention would predict, and the Lions five games fewer.

Because the system is anchored on wins, you can’t get around the fact that in the big picture, the Hawks’ players’ numbers were therefore more valuable than the Lions’ players – who needed to score and prevent more runs to produce the same number of wins.

The system rewards individual performance on claim points. Pitchers get points for preventing runs in your innings beyond that which your fielders are credited with saving the team per inning.

You get points for striking out more batters and walking fewer, and for giving up fewer home runs. Because Kikuchi pitched nearly three times as many innings, he was able to save many more runs, but Sarfate was extremely effective and had a high leverage bonus because of his 54 saves. Still, Kikuchi gets 87.8 claim points – more than Sarfate’s 75.5.

Kikuchi’s claims give him 21 percent share of the Lions’ pitchers’ win shares. That is larger than Sarfate’s 17 percent of the Hawks total. But because the Hawks’ players’ numbers were more valuable, a Hawks pitcher saving 20 runs in 100 innings (adjusted for context and team defense) created more wins than a Lions pitcher who did exactly the same.

The Hawks’ individual performances were not all that much better, but in terms of wins, they were noticeably more valuable. Because the Hawks pitching staff produced many more wins, Sarfate’s contribution to the Hawks was a smidgeon more valuable than Kikuchi’s contribution to the Lions.

This connundrum pops up when the star of one team that wins more games than its runs scored and allowed suggest is compared to the star of a team that wins fewer games than it ought to. The Hawks won four games more than expected, the Lions five fewer. But you have to give the credit for that to the players, meaning, the Hawks’ players’ stats need to carry slightly more weight than the Lions.

That’s the rationale.

Is it accurate? It has its failings here and there, and it is not hard to believe that somehow Kikuchi must earn more credit, but in the end, everything depends on wins. At least this system doesn’t give players credit for winning games that their team didn’t – as WAR would.

If the Lions’ wins had more accurately reflected their runs and runs allowed, then the system would have seen Shogo Akiyama as the PL’s most valuable player – instead of Yuki Yanagita.

It also explains the presence of so many BayStars players and the absence of Tigers. The BayStars were hyper efficient, while the Tigers were not.

My 2017 NPB Awards Ballot

Here is my postseason award voting for 2017:

I have four rules:
1) Everything is about THIS season. It doesn’t matter what a guy did last year, that’s a different staory.
2) If two players are really close and one won a championship, go with the guy on the league championship.
3) No weight is given to age or potential unless a player is overwhelmingly superior but whose season value is low only because he missed playing time. This applies generally to rookies, but also applied to Shohei Otani last year.
4) The Best Nine Awards go to the most valuable player at each position. Whoever gets my MVP vote is automatically going to win a Best Nine Award. In the case of Otani last year, I gave Rule 3 precedence since he was easily the most productive pitcher and DH, but had slightly less total season value at each position than another player.

Here are my votes and a brief explanation of how I derive them.

Postseason Award Voting
Central League
1. Kosuke Tanaka, Carp 田中 広輔 (広島)
2. Yoshihiro Maru, Carp 丸 佳浩 (広島)
3. Tomoyuki Sugano, Giants 菅野 智之 (巨人)

Rookie of the Year
Yota Kyoda, Dragons 京田 陽太 (中日)

Best Nine
P – Tomoyuki Sugano, Giants 菅野 智之 (巨人)
C – Tsubasa Aizawa, Carp 會澤 翼 (広島)
1B – Jose Lopez, BayStars ロペス (DeNA)
2B – Ryosuke Kikuchi, Carp 菊池 涼介 (広島)
3B – Toshiro Miyazaki, BayStars 宮﨑 敏郎(DeNA)
SS – Kosuke Tanaka, Carp 田中 広輔 (広島)
OF – Yoshihiro Maru, Carp 丸 佳浩 (広島)
OF – Seiya Suzuki, Carp 鈴木 誠也 (広島)
OF – Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, BayStars 筒香 嘉智(DeNA)

Postseason Award Voting
Pacific League
1. Yuki Yanagita, Hawks 柳田 悠岐 (ソフトバンク)
2. Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾 (西武)
3. Kenta Imamiya, Hawks 今宮 健太 (ソフトバンク)

Rookie of the Year
Sosuke Genda, Lions 源田 壮亮 (西武)

Best Nine
P – Dennis Sarfate, Hawks サファテ (ソフトバンク)
C – Takuya Kai, Hawks 甲斐 拓也 (ソフトバンク)
1B – Hotaka Yamakawa, Lions 山川 穂高 (西武)
2B – Hideto Asamura, Lions 浅村 栄斗 (西武)
3B – Nobuhiro Matsuda, Hawks 松田 宣浩 (ソフトバンク)
SS – Kenta Imamiya, Hawks 今宮 健太 (ソフトバンク)
OF – Yuki Yanagita, Hawks 柳田 悠岐 (ソフトバンク)
OF – Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾 (西武)
OF – Akira Nakamura, Hawks 中村 晃 (ソフトバンク)
DH – Alfredo Despaigne, Hawks デスパイネ (ソフトバンク)

The rationale behind my award votes
I base my votes on Bill James’ win share system, which – like all of us – has flaws, but also does one thing I like that WAR doesn’t: It only gives credit for actual games won. Players don’t accumulate wins by putting up numbers against a scale but by putting up numbers within the context of games won by a team within a league.

You start with wins, although I have to assign half a win for every tie because they are so common in Japan. I wish ties were worth half a win in the standings, since that would push the teams tying games closer to .500. NPB used to do it that way, but never mind.

Each team gets 3 shares for each win and 1.5 for each tie. So how do you distribute them? Step 1 is to estimate how many runs an average team in its league would score and allow given the parks each team plays in.

Let’s take the SoftBank Hawks. They won 94 games with no ties. That’s 3 * 94 = 282 win shares to be distributed among their players. The Hawks scored 638 runs, while allowing 483. The Hawks playing context is extremely unusual. The parks they played in in 2017 increased season home runs totals by 22 percent, while suppressing runs by 3 percent.

It’s not just Fukuoka Dome, though. It’s all the small and large parks the Hawks play in through the season. But the Hawks’ context makes them the PL team for which home runs are easiest to hit and runs are hardest to score.

The system uses that information to split the Hawks’ 282 win shares as follows: 136.94 for the hitters and 145.06 for the pitchers and fielders. The system then splits the pitchers and fielders based on things like double play and fielding efficiency, strikeouts, walks and so on.

This then gives SoftBank 102.28 win shares to be divided among the pitchers and 42.78 to be divied up among all the fielders. From that point we get into determine the relative claims of each player to those totals. All the hitters on a team are compared to each other and the win shares are distributed accordingly. The pitchers are a little more complicated because they require claim points for the higher leverage situations that middle relievers and closers encounter.

Fielders are even more complicated, and therein is one of brilliant elements of James’ system.

While modern measures (unavailable to the general public in Japan) can calculate an fielders’ efficiency, a good job can be done by estimating defensive quality by the players at each position for a given team by comparing each team’s results at a position to its league rivals with adjustments for the frequency of innings pitched by lefties (which increases ground ball opportunities for third basemen and shortstops) and ground balls.

If you adjust for the number of strikeouts a team gets, its totals for catcher put outs become relevant. The same goes for pitcher put outs, which influence the totals of assists by first basemen.

Each team’s postion totals are compared to the league norms. The positions on a team that exceed league norms will have more of the team’s fielding win shares to divide among the team’s players at that position.

In the case of the Hawks, the position breakdowns for win shares for 2017 are:
Catchers = 9.2 (No. 1 in Japan)
1st Base = 2.0 (5th)
2nd Base = 6.1 (1st)
3rd Base = 5.8 (1st)
Shortstop = 7.7 (5th)
Outfielders = 11.9 (3rd)
The Hawks team ends up looking like this after each player’s total is converted into an integer:
(Hawks players with four win shares or more)
Yuki Yanagita 27 (23 Batting, 0 pitching, 3.7 fielding)
Kenta Imamiya 22 (14.8, 0 , 5.7)
Nobuhiro Matsuda 21 (15.3, 0 , 5.7)
Akira Nakamura 18 (14.2, 0 , 3.9)
Dennis Sarfate 18 (0, 17.5, 0)
Alfredo Despaigne 17 (17, 0, 0)
Nao Higashihama 14 (0, 14.2, 0)
Seiji Uebayashi 14 (11, 0 , 2.7)
Kodai Senga 12 (0, 11.8, 0)
Takuya Kai 11 (5.6, 0, 5)
Rick van den Hurk 10 (10.3)
Seiichi Uchikawa 10 (9.2, 0 , 0.9)
Sho Iwasaki 10 (0, 10, 0)
Kenji Akashi 9 (7.5, 0, 1.7)
Shuta Ishikawa 6 (0, 6.4, 0)
Ryota Igarashi 6 (0, 6, 0)
Hiroki Takayas 5 (2.1, 0, 3.7)
Tsuyoshi Wada 4 (0, 4.3, 0)
Munenori Kawasaki 4 (2.8, 0, 1.3)
Tomoki Takata 4 (2.4, 0, 1.6)
Livan Moinelo 4 (0, 4, 0)
Yuito Mori 4 (0, 4, 0)

An indecent proposal

Yomiuri Giants “owner” Shoichi Oikawa revealed to various media sources Wednesday that Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners are negotiating two options for a revised posting system with Major League Baseball. Both systems will look to base team compensation on a percentage of what players earn in signing bonuses, incentives, salary that would eliminate NPB teams’ ability to select the amount of money they want in exchange for posted players.

The two proposals, according to Oikawa are:

A: 15 percent of all money paid to a player


B: 15 percent of all money paid to a player up to $100 million. Over $100 million, the posting fee would be $20 million.

Under these conditions, established pros under 25 who are considered amateurs under the majors’ new CBA could be had for peanuts. The Nippon Ham Fighters, the last team to reap a huge posting fee (around $50 million for Yu Darvish) would be shafted out of the $20 million that would be on the table for Shohei Otani now and instead receive around $1 million — because the PL’s 2016 MVP is an “amateur.”

Should these pass, it will put NPB one step closer to being a minor league for MLB, with NPB teams forced to accept terms that no MLB owner would ever consider.

Mommas don’t let your babys grow up to play defense

…that is, if you want them to win a monthly MVP award in Nippon Professional Baseball.

I totalled up NPB’s monthly MVP awards for position players today and found some not so surprising results. It has always seemed that whoever it is who does the selecting only looks at triple crown stats and stolen bases, so I was curious just how many players at more difficult to fill defensive positions did in the selections.

Without further a dew, here are the results since 1989, when the leagues decided to honor a position player and pitcher from each league.

Catchers: 19 — 5.5% of total
First Basemen: 95 — 27.4%
Second Basemen: 26 — 7.5%
Third Basemen: 48 — 13.8%
Shortstops: 19 — 5.5%
Outfielders at all positions: 131 — 37.8%
Designated Hitters: 9 — 5.2%

Because I don’t have the breakdowns by outfield positions and DH hand for the years between 1989 and 2002, it’s kind of a rough estimate, but it’s pretty clear, that the farther to the weaker end of the defensive spectrum a player is, the more likely he is to win an NPB “player” of the month award.

I do have better games played by position details from 2003, so here are the breakdowns from 2003 through 2017, when ironically, six of the eight winners are outfielders and five of those six have been center fielders.

Anyway, here are the breakdowns since 2003:

Catcher: 10 — 6%
First Baseman: 43 — 25.9%
Second Baseman: 15 — 9%
Third Baseman: 21 — 12.7%
Shortstop: 8 — 4.8%
Left Fielder: 25 — 15.1%
Center Fielder: 18 — 10.8%
Right Fielder: 17 — 10.2%
DH: 9 — 5.4%

The 10 catcher awards are largely due to future Hall of Famer Shinnosuke Abe, who has won 6 monthly MVP awards and another middle-of-the order guy, Kenji Jojima, who won two of the 10 at the position since 2003.

When Daiei Hawks designated hitter Kaz Yamamoto won the award in April 1994, he was batting second, and I was curious how often it was for a No. 2 hitter to be monthly MVP in a country that reserves that batting order spot for players who make lots and lots of outs.

With the exception of Yamamoto and one other player, the No. 2 hitters who won a monthly MVP award were shifted to other spots in the batting order after they disqualified themselves for the NO. 2 spot by being productive. The only Monthly MVP who batted second much of his career was Hankyu Braves second baseman (and current Orix Buffaloes manager) Junichi Fukura, who was a quality hitter but also fit the NPB stereotype of a No. 2 man by being a fast, good-glove middle infielder who excelled at bunting and rarely struck out.

Monthly MVPs

NPB’s pitchers and hitters of the month will be announced shortly, actually the awards are “Player of the Month” and “Pitcher of the Month” but they could be just as well called “high average hitter of the month or “winning starting pitcher of the month” since those seem to be the principle concerns for the award selectors.

Here are some basic monthly stats for the top hitters and top pitchers from NPB for March and April. Enjoy.

4 years after shafting NPB, MLB ready for another posting system plunge

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.

Masanori Murakami book signing with Robert Fitts

Masanori Murakami, Japan’s first Major Leaguer, and author Robert Fitts will sign copies of their book Mashi at Legends Sports Bar in Roppongi on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 from 7 to 9 PM.  Copies of the book will be 3000 yen (cash only) and include a free autograph.  Mr. Murakami will sign additional autographs at 3000 yen each.  Legends Sports bar is located at 3-16-33 Roppongi.