Tag Archives: NPB

Roki Sasaki & the revolution

“Roki Sasaki & the revolution” sounds like the name of the pitcher’s post-baseball garage band, but I digress. The Sasaki story, such has it is, has stirred up emotions.

There has been anger toward the hard-throwing right-hander for the temerity of thinking he might leave the Japan and the Lotte Marines before custom says he should.

There has been talk that the whole story must be concocted since the idea that a team might let an extremely valuable player leave for a transfer fee that barely registers is impossible for some to comprehend.

I apologize for being fascinated with the story. This is not because I am advocating for Sasaki to leave the Marines in the lurch, but because I advocate for labor rights everywhere, and it is every player’s right to use whatever leverage he can.

After all, turning pro requires players enter a system in which most have virtually zero options and no say in their working conditions for nine-plus years, an unequal and inequitable system that management is perfectly content to exploit at every turn.

This time around I will address the story’s latest iteration, as well as a larger meaning for Japanese pro baseball, a revolution as it were.

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NPB’s silver-lining playbook

Japanese pro baseball may or may not realize it, but NPB is currently at a crossroads in its dealing with MLB and should act now to fix a system that isn’t working as well as it should for Japanese teams.

Never has the MLB market for imported Japanese talent been so high as it was this offseason, with teams handing out big contracts to two players who moved via the posting system, a record $325 million deal for Yoshinobu Yamamoto and a contract to Shota Imanaga that could be worth $80 million.

The current posting agreement with MLB includes posting fees calculated on the total value of a player’s contract, but the use of options and opt outs have allowed MLB teams to defer paying what they owe since Yusei Kikuchi signed with the Seattle Mariners ahead of the 2019 season with player and team options after the third year.

Obviously that’s a problem. NPB teams have gone from huge windfalls, to $20 million windfalls, to a fraction of the amount the player is paid with opt outs making deferred payments interest-free loans from the players’ Japanese clubs.

“I tell them, every time you sit down in New York with these people (MLB), the big leagues benefit as a league, their clubs benefit, the Japanese players benefit, and you guys (NPB) just bend over and take it. It makes me so upset.”

— NPB team executive in December 2017.

With some MLB teams believing Lotte Marines right-hander Roki Sasaki will be available via the posting system 11 months from now, the interest shows no sign of slowing. Under the current posting rules and MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with its union, the Sasaki will be treated as an international amateur only eligible to enter MLB via a minor league contract with a signing bonus constrained by MLB’s signing bonus pools.

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