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.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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