Right-hander Kodai Senga said he made no progress in persuading the SoftBank Hawks to allow him to move to the major leagues through the posting system following his dinner with the team’s president, Yoshimitsu Goto.
Senga, who is a top target of MLB scouts visiting Japan, will not be eligible for international free agency until after the 2022 season. So unless the Hawks break ranks with the other team opposed to posting, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, Senga will have to wait until the autumn of 2022, or move as a domestic free agent after the 2020 season to a team that is willing to post him or holdout and refuse to sign a contract for 2020 until the Hawks trade him or accede to his wishes.
As unlikely as it seems, there are precedents for this in Japan. Yoshio Itoi held out for more money from the Nippon Ham Fighters after the 2012 season and the club traded him to the Orix Buffaloes. Ironically, the cover story was that the team traded him because they refused to post him. When I asked him about his desire to play in the major leagues a year later, he looked at me like I had two heads.
Following the 2002 season, the Kintetsu Buffaloes bungled the posting paperwork for reliever Akinori Otsuka and he was unable to go to the States that winter. As a result, he held out until Kintetsu assigned his contract to the Chunichi Dragons, where he pitched for one year before being posted.
That is a highly unusual example since NPB clubs treat players cast off in that fashion as if they carried highly contagious diseases. When Norihiro Nakamura left Orix after a contract dispute, 10 teams wouldn’t even give him a tryout. The same went for Daisuke Matsuzaka a year ago. Although he was a free agent, one guesses the Hawks spread some less-than complimentary stories about the right-hander, whom they wanted to re-sign at a bargain price.
The common thread in these last three examples is the Central League’s Dragons. They signed Otsuka, and were the only club to give tryouts to Nakamura and Matsuzaka.
In the early days of the current free agent system, the then-Daiei Hawks had a hardline policy against negotiating with their players who filed for free agency, but that flew out the window after the 1999 season, when their top pitcher, Kimiyasu Kudo, filed for free agency, and the Hawks got in line to try and persuade him to stay in Fukuoka.
The Hawks will change their stance, but only after a player they covet in the draft tells them to agree to post him or drop dead — although using nicer language than that.
Or how it can pay to let the Giants sign your players…
On Monday, Jan. 7, the Yomiuri Giants announced they had assigned the contract of veteran outfielder Hisayoshi Chono to the Hiroshima Carp as part of the compensation package for signing two-time reigning Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru.
Chono is the second player the Giants have cast off as a result of this winter’s offseason shopping spree, having turned over the contract of veteran lefty and former ace Tetsuya Utsumi to the Seibu Lions in exchange for signing the Lions’ No. 2 catcher, Ginjiro Sumitani.
According to Bill James’ Win Shares, the 34-year-old Chono is coming off the best season of any player taken as free agent compensation, having added 10.9 WS to the Giants’ cause in 2018. Mind you the previous top two, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka (2013 for pitcher Yasutomo Kubo) ) and reliever Shinya Okamoto (2007 for outfielder Kazuhiro Wada) did precious little with their future teams.
The big prize so far among compensation players goes to outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi. After producing 6.3 WS for the Seibu Lions in 2007, he was taken by the Yakult Swallows as compensation for pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii. Fukuchi would go on to contribute 38.4 WS with the Swallows to Ishii’s 24.2 with the Lions. Fukuchi told me that he had taken Ishii out to dinner to thank him for kick-starting his career.
Free agents and compensation players
Fut. W S
Players taken in free agent compensation since NPB's free agent system was introduced in 1993.
And then there’s the money…
Both Utsumi and Chono were available because they have high salaries and are past their prime, and their new teams will have to take on those contracts. Utsumi’s was reported at 100 million yen ( $924,000) and Chono’s at 220 million yen ($2 million).
But teams are also eligible for cash compensation. As a first-time free agent whose 2018 salary (reportedly 110 million yen) ranked him between 4th and 10th on Seibu’s payroll, Sumitani was a “Class B” free agent. Maru was a “Class A” with his salary from last season ranking among Hiroshima’s top three.
As such, the Lions could opt to receive 60 percent of Sumitani’s salary or a player and 40 percent. The Carp had the option of 80 percent of Maru’s 190 million yen salary or a player and 50 percent.
The idea is to keep the best players and win pennants, but the Carp will not now be paying Maru the roughly 400 million yen ($3.7 million) a year for four years they had offered him. They will instead get Chono for $2 million with the Giants kicking in 43 percent of Chono’s salary for 2018.
Sumitani’s compensation package comes in the form of an older veteran pitcher, whom they’ll need to pay $925,000 with Yomiuri kicking in 44 percent of that. By the way, Sumitani earned 1.7 WS last year — less than half of Utsumi’s 3.8, although the catcher has been the more valuable of the two, barely, over the past three seasons.
Throw in the fact that the Giants already have a No. 1 catcher, Seiji Kobayashi, a future Hall of Famer who wants to catch again after a few seasons at first base (Shinnosuke Abe) and a few other guys fighting for playing time, one wonders whether drug testing might be needed at Yomiuri’s front office.
Because both Chono and Utsumi are eligible to file for free agency next November, the way the Giants’ brain trust has been operating, there might be a chance that Yomiuri would re-sign them if given the chance. If so, the Carp could pocket 80 percent of Chono’s salary for 2018 ($1.6 million), which would be a pretty sweet deal.