Tag Archives: developmental contract

Growing your own

The Pacific League has now won the last seven Japan Series and has a .532 interleague winning percentage. People have attributed the gap to more hard-throwing pitchers in the PL, or to larger ballparks and the DH that helped that league be better at developing pitchers.

But two years ago, former Giants pitcher Scott Mathieson attributed it to the drafting philosophies of the two leagues, that the six Central League teams have shown more inclination to draft “baseball instinct” over physical tools.

Is it the draft?

This study won’t address that question, but it does ask whether one league has had an advantage in the draft and its Siamese twin, player development.

The answer is yes, and no one will be surprised to find that the PL has had a clear edge in this area.

To answer this and another question for another study, I created a database with the draft ranking of every signed player in Nippon Professional Baseball’s annual autumn amateur draft. For each player there is also a corresponding measure of career value, using Bill James’ win shares as I have adopted them to fit NPB.

Since we’re more interested in the CL’s current troubles, I looked at the drafts since 2000 and broke them down into two, ten-year periods. Interestingly enough, the top four players drafted since 1999 all were by CL teams: Shinnosuke Abe, Takashi Toritani, Hayato Sakamoto and Norichika Aoki.

The win share totals include those from the major leagues.

Players drafted from 1999 to 2008

LeagueWin SharesEdge
Pacific League9,714+21%
Central League8,041

The results of the second group are of course much smaller since many of these players have had little or no chance to impact the score, so it’s probably too early to think the PL’s edge is shrinking.

Players drafted from 2009 to 2018

LeagueWin SharesEdge
Pacific League4,317+10%
Central League3,914

The good and the bad

Here are the breakdowns of the return on amateur talent by team draft. Just a note, the three players still active from the 1998 draft, Kosuke Fukudome, Kyuji Fujikawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka, are not included in the study.

The first PL table includes the Kintetsu Buffaloes in the Rakuten Eagles, since the Eagles are the team that took Kintetsu’s place in the league.

In both the 1999 to 2008 group and the 2009 to 2018 group, the CL placed just two teams in the top six. Another interesting point is that while the Yomiuri Giants have invested heavily in developmental players, essentially the team’s return came from two guys who are both retired, reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi and center fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto, who both won CL Rookie of the Year Awards over a decade ago.

Central League drafts 1999 to 2008

TeamTotalRegularDevelopmentalNPB rank
Giants1,6431,5191244
Swallows1,4631,46306
Carp1,4121,41207
Tigers1,2641,26319
BayStars1,2471,247010
Dragons1,0831,083012

Pacific League drafts 1999 to 2008

TeamTotalRegularDevelopmentalNPB rank
Fighters1,9501,95001
Lions1,9471,94702
Hawks1,8111,80473
Eagles1,5791,579535
Marines1,3111,226858
Orix1,1161,116011

Central League drafts 2009 to 2018

TeamTotalRegularDevelopmentalNPB rank
BayStars828792362
Carp73173015
Giants70169747
Dragons59959549
Swallows545543211
Tigers5105001012

Pacific League drafts 2009 to 2018

TeamTotalRegularDevelopmentalNPB rank
Lions89389121
Marines77677243
Fighters73973904
Hawks7115401716
Buffaloes63662888
Eagles568562610

NPB’s salary structure

Japan doesn’t have a CBA, but it does have a charter, the “Pro Yakyu Kyoyaku,” approved by the 12 teams, that establishes its operating rules. Japan’s players’ union has the right — thanks to Japan’s fairly liberal labor laws — as opposed to its often draconian labor customs — to approve changes to their working conditions.

Years ago, former NPB star Leon Lee grumbled how hard it was in his then job as a scout for the Chicago Cubs to sign hungry Japanese players, and a large reason for that, he said, are the good working conditions of Japanese pro ballplayers — even those who are not yet ready for action at the top level.

Taking care of the kids

There are three tiers of NPB players. The lowest are on developmental  or “ikusei” contracts. These have a minimum salary of 2.4 million yen ($21,000) a year, cannot be activated to play in first-team Pacific and Central league games but can play in official minor league games in the Eastern and Western leagues. These players do not count against each team’s 70-man organizational roster.

They can, however, be signed to a uniform NPB contract with a 4.4 million yen ($40,000) minimum salary, where they can be activated to the first team, but do count against the 70-man roster, and can only be reserved as developmental players for three years.

Each team can also have up to 29 players on its first team active roster – although only 25 are game usable on any given day. These players’ salary – if under 14.3 million yen ($128,000) are raised to that amount every day they are on the active roster. In 2020, that goes up to 16 million yen ($144,000).

In addition to their living wages, young players have access to room and board at team dormitories, weight rooms and training facilities.

No need to sugar coat it

The Nippon Ham Fighters easily secured the negotiating rights to Shohei Ohtani at NPB’s 2012 amateur draft because the 11 other teams assumed he would sign his first pro contract with a major league team.

So five years before a host of MLB teams mapped out plans to secure Ohtani’s services, the Fighters did the same. A huge part of that was an explanation of what it meant to sign a minor league contract with a major league team, the pay, the working conditions and the cultural difficulties. The club also pointed out the relatively poor record of Japanese athletes who had turned pro overseas.

The Fighters approach, which included an opportunity to pitch and hit, and supposedly an offer to be made available to the majors via the posting system, eventually swayed him.

For a young Japanese player of exceptional talent, the advantages of turning pro here are numerous, since you can make a side deal with

The Japanese way

In MLB, minor league salaries and major league minimums are strictly monitored to make sure clubs don’t engage in private deals that would violate the terms of the CBA that limit the bargaining power of amateurs.

Japan has similar rules for first-year players, but after that teams can pay their players whatever they like. First-year players coming out of the draft are limited to:

  • 100 million yen signing bonus ($900,000) *
  • 50 million yen in incentives *
  • 16 million yen in salary

*-The signing bonus and incentive caps are limits agreed to by the teams that have not been formally added to the baseball charter and thus are not technically “rules.”

Until recently, it was customary for teams to exceed the signing bonus limits by paying cash under the table. In 2006, then Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine hit out at teams violating these “guidelines.” Shigeru Murata, then secretary general of the Pacific League estimated at the average first-round draft pick in NPB was getting in the neighborhood of $2.5 million under the table.

See also “NPB under the table.”

Players ineligible to enter through the draft, primarily foreign nationals who have not played amateur ball in Japan, have no salary restrictions. This allowed the SoftBank Hawks to sign Carter Stewart Jr to a six-year $6 million deal last summer.

Under-the-table deals and private personal-service contracts are how NPB teams do business with players. These can even include a promise to be posted to the big leagues in the future. All multiyear deals follow this pattern in that they only specify the ways in which the official salaries will be calculated in future one-year official contracts filed with NPB.

The sky’s the limit

Once players are under contract, however, the teams are allowed to raise their salaries as much as possible. This being Japan, teams are expected to reward big seasons by players on one-year contracts with large pay raises and no one asks questions.

The Central League’s 2019 rookie of the year, slugging first baseman Munetaka Murakami, entered last season under the first-team minimum, making 8 million yen ($72,000). His 2020 salary has been reported at 45 million ($405,000), well more than double the first-team minimum.

— For another take on this phenomenon, see “Marvin Miller’s legacy and Japan.”

The only limitations on salaries have to do with pay cuts and minimum salaries.

Players earning 100 million yen ($900,000) can be forced to take pay cuts up to 25 percent, while those earning more than 100 million yen can be forced to accept 40 percent pay cuts. Players offered pay cuts in excess of those figures can opt to be released so they can sign with another team.

The kotatsu league: Orix signs Padres minor leaguers Higgins, Rodriguez

Former San Diego Padres minor leaguers Tyler Higgins and Aderlin Rodriguez have signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League, the club announced Monday according to online site fullcount.

HIggins, who began his career with the Miami Marlins, is a 28-year-old right-hander who has spent most of his career at Double-A. At Triple-A El Paso last year, where former Japan closer Akinori Otsuka served as a pitching coach, Higgins struck out 50 batters in 45-2/3 innings while issuing 13 walks and surrendering 13 home runs.

Rodriguez, who is from the Dominican Republic and turned 28 in November, is a right-handed hitter who hit 19 home runs in 289 plate appearances for El Paso while striking out 46 times and drawing 14 walks. It was his lone season in Triple-A.

The Buffaloes have also acquired veteran major league outfielder Adam Jones on a two-year deal, and are bringing back outfielder-first baseman Steven Moya, starting pitcher Andrew Albers and closer Brandon Dickson.

Lotte signs Dominican amateur Acosta: report

The Lotte Marines have signed hard-throwing Dominican amateur Jose Acosta to a developmental contract, the Hochi Shimbun reported Monday, citing informed sources.

According to the report, the acquisition of 25-year-old Acosta, who has no pro experience, and 30-year-old Venezuelan Jose Flores, who pitched this year for the Toyama Thunderbirds of the independent BC League, will be announced in the coming days.

Acosta, a 1.87-meter, 89-kilogram right-hander, pitched for his country in this summer’s Pan Am Games. His fastball has been recorded at 164 kilometers per hour. He also possesses an effective slider and change.

At a tryout in the Dominican, his average fastball velocity was 157 kph.

The 1.91-meter, 120-kg Flores, who throws in the 150-159 kph range, tried out for the club in October at the Pacific League club’s home park, Zozo Marine Stadium, in Chiba. He is also headed for a developmental contract, that does not count against the team’s 70-man roster and does not allow him to play on the top team.