With 19-year-old prospect Carter Stewart reportedly days away from signing with the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, here are six things you might want to know:
This is MLB’s doing
By assigning maximum dollar amounts to draft picks in its amateur draft, MLB further reduced the rights amateurs have to sell their talent for a fair value. The draft already hampers this, by forcing amateurs to negotiate with only one team. But the signing bonus pools, introduced in 2012, and the decrepit status of minor league baseball, has now made Japan a viable alternative for the right candidate.
Nippon Professional Baseball teams, like those in the majors, are limited to how much they can pay amateurs acquired through the draft process, and these limits are much lower. While players used to receive millions of dollars under the table, those days appear to be over and the maximums of a 100 million yen ($905,000) signing bonus and 15 million yen ($136,000) first-year salary.
However, because there are no spending restraints on foreign talent, the Hawks could ostensibly spend as much as they like on foreign professionals or amateurs.
NPB recognizes 2 kinds of players: domestic and foreign
Domestic players — those who have played amateur ball and lived in Japan for specified periods of time, and all Japanese citizens — can only enter NPB after registering for and being selected in the October amateur draft. Japanese citizens such as Micheal Nakamura, Kazuhito Tadano and Mac Suzuki who turned pro in the States, entered NPB through its “amateur draft.”
Foreigners are everyone else, and different rules apply to them. For one thing, foreign players without nine years of first-team service time are subject to a quota. Each team can have only four foreign players on its active roster with a maximum of three position players or three pitchers.
This is not the first effort by an amateur’s agent
International directors of more than one NPB team have said they are occasionally approached by agents looking to use their clubs as developmental staging areas where players can go for a year or two to sharpen their skills and raise their profiles in MLB’s amateur draft.
One NPB executive, however, said such offers raise “ethical questions.”
A six-year deal, like the one currently being reported for Stewart, is a new approach, however. This brings us to the next point.
NPB only permits 1-year contracts
Wait a second. How could Carter Stewart sign for six years when NPB doesn’t recognize multiyear deals? The answer is that multiyear contracts are essentially personal service contracts between player and team that specify the nature of the official annual contracts signed and submitted to NPB.
Because these contracts are essentially backroom deals, they are often poorly reported. Teams and players can tell the media whatever figures they want to regardless of the contract’s actual terms.
So a six-year deal with a foreign player would be a document specifying the nature of six, one-year deals.
Japanese players can wait forever to play in MLB
NPB teams can reserve a domestic player until he has accumulated enough service time in the Central or Pacific leagues to file for free agency.
Those drafted out of high school are eligible for domestic free agency after eight years, those drafted after playing at a higher level, JC, university, corporate league ball and so on, can move to a different NPB team after seven years. But to go abroad requires nine years of service time.
That’s one reason why the posting system was created. Teams losing top players as domestic free agents can get some measure of compensation. Teams losing players to MLB get nothing.
Foreign players generally don’t need to be posted
Although a handful of foreign players have been posted, they generally work on one-, two- or three-year deals and just wait until those deals end and they can move to the U.S. as free agents — provided they are not considered amateurs by MLB rules.
This is a big point if you are Carter Stewart.
In December, three agents — including Stewarts’ agent Scott Boras — said that all U.S. and Canadian citizens are subject to MLB’s amateur draft regardless of their overseas experience.
- Here is the transcript an audio of my chat with Boras from Dec. 13, 2018.
That is true, but the same rules stipulate that foreign residents are considered international players and international professionals if they are at least 25 years old with six years as a professional in a “league recognized by Major League Baseball” — which may or may not include Japan’s Eastern and Western leagues, the latter which contains the Hawks’ top farm team.
The SoftBank Hawks have never posted a player, have said they never will, and will not have to start with Stewart. Provided he establishes residence in Japan, which is not that hard, Stewart will have the option of morphing into an international professional and signing with the MLB team of his choosing as a free agent.
A source has told me the Hawks’ goal is for Stewart to thrive and prosper in Japan — so much so that he never wants to leave. This is not so far-fetched as it seems. A lot of players come here with the plan of polishing their skills enough to reboot their careers in America. Some do that, but many who do also find Japan addictive and hard to leave.
But there’s always a 1st time…
With Jeff Passan telling me that posting is part of the deal, it occurred to me that while posting is in no way obligatory, it might be a slick move.
Let’s say the Hawks sign Stewart to a year longer than he needs to establish himself as an international free agent. At the conclusion of his penultimate season, SoftBank could post him — assuming MLB has not opted to exchange dollars in its posting agreement with NPB to peanuts by then. If he becomes a star in Japan, the Hawks would receive a portion equal to around 15 percent of his first MLB deal.
Of course that assumes the Hawks are willing to set that precedent while telling their host of Japanese players (read Kodai Senga) to go to hell and wait.