Tag Archives: expansion

NPB goes viral: Kakefu argues for small ball

The website of Fukuoka broadcaster TV Nishinihon, which has been covering the debate over NPB expanding to 16 teams, published part of an interview with former Hanshin Tigers great Masayuki Kakefu, who would prefer 10 teams in NPB with a kind of minor league development system that is not run by the teams. You can find the article HERE.

“When I was manager of Hanshin’s farm team, I asked the front office why we don’t have a third team like the SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants do,” Kakefu told the interviewer, retired former Hawks and Tigers pitcher Chikafusa Ikeda. “They said, ‘The outlay for infrastructure and expenses add up to quite a lot over the course of the year, but are not worth it when you consider the low chances of any of those players contributing on the first team.”

By that logic, the Tigers wouldn’t have a farm team if they weren’t required by NPB rules to have one. And since the Tigers are historically bad at developing talent, it would make sense for them to believe that a third team would just mean more expenses for more players who would never have careers with them.

Kakefu doesn’t really give a reason why he thinks 10 teams are better than 12, other than asking whether fans want “more baseball or better baseball.”

In my opinion, like some other former Giants and Tigers players, he’s just being nostalgic for the days before the NPB draft when the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants could afford to pay full value for amateur talent and other teams could not.

An independent alternative

The easy way to handle expansion is to simply do away with the active-roster limit of four imported players. Kakefu’s idea that a level of minor league development not be owned by the team but somehow contracted out is an interesting one but probably makes no sense for anyone.

A dream alternative would be for NPB to have its clubs to reduce their rosters to about 30 players while allowing for player loans and for purchases at market value from fully professional independent minor leagues. Currently, there are over 1,000 players under contract with NPB teams. If four teams were added and needed only 30 players, there still would be plenty of players available to seed two or four smaller regional leagues. These clubs would compete for their own championships, sign their own players, develop their own markets and players, and sell surplus talent to other teams and other leagues.

This would mean a huge increase in the amount of affordable professional baseball in Japan and, I believe, in the quality of talent.

That’s my two yen on the subject for the time being at least.

Uehara: “MLB club flew me to U.S. as an amateur”

One of the stories of NPB’s 1998 amateur draft was Koji Uehara’s decision to turn down a reported $5 million offer from the Angels to stay in Japan and sign with the Yomiuri Giants, who–IF they abided by an NPB’s gentleman’s agreement–could only offer amateurs a total of 150 million yen in signing bonuses and 1st-year incentives.

Fifteen years ago, I asked Uehara about this and he said he did get an offer from an MLB team but they would only guarantee that he would start now lower than Double-A. He also said he was not confident living in an English-speaking environment and for those two reasons chose nine years of indentured servitude with the Giants.

The most likely answer to the riddle of why Uehara turned down more money in exchange for a guaranteed roster spot with the Giants was that he didn’t. The Giants, most believe simply offered him a lot more money. And as long as he paid his taxes on it or the Giants successfully hid it, then there would be no questions asked.

Anyway, to get back to Uehara’s “confession” published by Sports Nippon Annex HERE, he told Fuji Television that during his senior year in his 1998 summer vacation, an MLB club paid for his trip to the States.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “They paid for everything. I got to throw a little in the bullpen. They took me to a night game and I was really enthused. I was leaning toward signing with them.”

He didn’t, he said, because the team’s Asia scout told him, “Only come if you are 100 percent certain. If you’re not, you won’t make it.” Uehara said he had been 100 percent certain but the more he went over the idea with his parents that confidence eroded.

Water under the table

That doesn’t mean the Giants didn’t offer him more money. Clubs aren’t bound to the NPB bonus and incentive limits for amateurs, and in legal filings, have called them “just guidelines.” In 1993, the Giants successfully lobbied for a change to the draft rules that allowed players the right to turn down draft selections under certain circumstances. That started a huge market in under-the-table signing bonuses.

Some people said there was never any evidence for that, but it has come out in various ways. An accountant who was an acquaintance of a Dragons coach convinced a string of players that they could hide their unreported bonuses and avoid paying taxes on them.

Those players, including former national team manager Hiroki Kokubo, were arrested, convicted and suspended. Tsuneo Watanabe, the windbag president of the Yomiuri Shimbun and then “owner” of the Giants, lambasted the Dragons and Hawks for signing “tax cheats.” This was rich coming from Watanabe who is infamous for being a tax cheat.

When I was at the Daily Yomiuri, the company handed us all bank accounts at Fuji Bank, currently Mizuho, into which all our work expenses would be paid. But several of my Japanese coworkers received more than one account but were told never to touch the other one or worry about the sums of money going in and out of it. A likely explanation for those accounts was that they were used by the company to hide taxes by reporting non-existent business expenses.

The road to 16 teams: the talent pool

This is the second part of a series on the possibility of NPB expanding from 12 to 16 teams. Part 1 is HERE.

Expanding Japanese pro baseball from 12 to 16 or more teams is a tricky operation for a number of reasons but let’s address one here: the talent pool.

Because expansion will dilute the existing talent pool, some will argue it would make Nippon Professional Baseball’s product unmarketable. There is some truth to that. Suddenly adding 280 players to the existing 840 would force many players into starting jobs who could not make that jump without expansion or a rash of injuries.

That would make the games more interesting and lower the quality of execution in each game.

But the other side of the equation is that new jobs will open the door to groups of players: Those teams know can play but can’t commit to, and those that teams don’t know can play but who can.

Take Ichiro Suzuki. He fell somewhere in between those two categories. For two years, manager Shozo Doi wanted him to be a pinch-running, bunting and infield-single hitting defensive replacement. The team knew he could play a little but his refusal to adopt an orthodox batting stance limited his value in the eyes of the organization’s eyes — despite his amazing minor league results.

Even managers who are really good at spotting talent miss guys. Former Chunichi Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai was one of the best in the business at spotting what players were capable of, but he missed the boat entirely with outfielder Teppei Tsuchiya, who became a Best Nine-winning regular with the Rakuten Eagles.

The point is that teams make decisions about players, and often those decisions are wrong. An increase in jobs means more opportunities for players whose only failing is working for a team that doesn’t believe in him.

A side benefit of adding four teams would be bringing an end to NPB’s ridiculous limitation on imported talent. The purpose of that limit is ostensibly to give job opportunities to Japanese players, but it also means intentionally marketing an inferior product to the paying customers. The fans aren’t paying to see players who are Japanese, they’re paying to see baseball, and NPB needs to remember that.

Next, a look at how to identify new teams and cities.

NPB to expand, rescue U.S. amateurs

In a surprise move Wednesday, Nippon Professional Baseball decided to act for the good of the game and rescue Japan’s most popular pro sport from the clutches of Major League Baseball.

“For years Japanese baseball has avoided trying to be the adult in the room. But by their disregard for the rights of amateurs and minor leaguers, MLB and its union have made it clear it’s time for us to put on our big-boy pants.”

NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito

Upon learning MLB and its players’ union planned to make further inroads into their already barbaric treatment of amateur prospects and minor leaguers on account of the coronavirus pandemic, NPB announced a series of measures to save the reputation of Japan’s beloved game from MLB.

In its April 1 declaration, NPB announced it would:

  • Add four teams, two in each league, in Okayama, Nagoya, Shizuoka, and Niigata.
  • Allow all 16 teams, starting in June to sign up to two international amateurs, who will not be counted against each club’s 70-man roster.
  • Abolish the current limit of four imported players on each team’s active roster.

Commissioner Atsushi Saito said, “MLB has left us with no choice. The way it suppresses the rights of amateurs to fair market value gives the sport a bad name and causes the millions of Japanese who love baseball to weep in shame.”

“We hope to take the best and brightest American amateurs and treat them with dignity and quality working conditions they will not find in their homeland. We won’t force them to learn how to bunt or to practice as much as we do because frankly, we don’t think they could.”