Tag Archives: Posting system

Darvish: don’t expect MLB penny-pinching to stop

Yu Darvish, who last week came close to being a San Diego Padres teammate with Tomoyuki Sugano, shared some thoughts about major league baseball’s free-agent market and what it means for Japanese players aspiring to play for MLB teams.

We may never know all the factors that went into Sugano’s decision to walk away from the Padres offer with two minutes to go before the posting-system deadline expired on Thursday. Sugano on Sunday described some of his feelings, which Kyodo News reported in English.

Sugano sought advice from both Darvish and Kenta Maeda about various conditions, and the Padres were simply not going to offer enough to overcome whatever concerns he might have had about playing in the States.

In a recorded message, Darvish said he didn’t intend to talk about Sugano’s situation, but felt to compelled to speak his mind about the current player market in the majors–one thing Sugano did complain about.

Here’s what Darvish had to say:

“These past years the free agent market has been incredibly slow. …The number of teams that don’t want to spend a lot of money has really increased. Now there’s also the coronavirus issue, and teams that have money are saying they don’t, so now the market is incredibly bad.”

“When I was a free agent in 2017, my agent said he’d never seen it so bad. But it’s worse now. In 2017, I got my money and my guarantees, but the players making plans now? The idea you could do really well and strive and get one free agent payday? That suddenly vanished.”

“It’s tough, but you know the teams aren’t going to be able to make up their coronavirus losses in a single season, so I think this situation is going to drag on for years. Japanese players coming here as free agents are not going to get the amounts they used to get. That’s how I’m looking at the current posting and free agent situation.”

Sugano expects to try again next year, when he won’t be hampered by a posting system deadline, but if Darvish is right, and he probably is, the situation a year from now could easily be worse.

Yomiuri offers Sugano backdoor exit

As the posting deadline for ace pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano to complete a contract with a major league club, his Japanese team, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants have offered him a four-year contract with annual opt-out options in an effort to keep him here, Nikkan Sports reported Monday.

Although the 31-year-old is reportedly seeing more lucrative offers from MLB clubs, he has also expressed concern about playing in the States due to the greater risk of coronavirus infection. Japan’s teams played a 120-game schedule, with only the first few weeks behind closed doors, and only one game was canceled out of concern for possible infections.

The Giants’ offer would allow him to be a free agent next year, something he will achieve on his own if he plays a full season here in 2021.

The deadline for Sugano, who is currently in the United States, to sign a deal is 5 pm Friday EST.

Uehara takes aim at system again

On Thursday, former major leaguer Koji Uehara took aim at the posting system in a column for Yahoo Sports.

Readers will probably know I’ve been a big fan of Uehara’s wildcat stances for players’ rights and against Japanese baseball’s status quo. When Tsuneo Watanabe, then the Yomiuri Giants’ autocratic owner said he’d release any player who was so low as to send an agent to contract negotiations, Uehara sent an agent. The team didn’t release their ace as Watanabe promised, saying the lawyer who negotiated on Uehara’s behalf wasn’t an agent but a “consultant.”

Going postal

In the wake of the Giants’ posting of pitcher Shun Yamaguchi a year ago, and their current ace, Tomoyuki Sugano, this winter, Uehara recalled his own experience with that process and said the system needs to be fixed to make it less arbitrary.

In 2005, when he requested Yomiuri post him, the Giants blasted their star in public, calling him “selfish” and a player “who does whatever he wants.”

“I don’t want to complain (about my treatment). What I want is a standardized system. Currently, a player can ask to be posted and if the team can say ‘No’ and that discussion is over in one minute.”

–former major leaguer Koji Uehara

That might be OK if players could choose to play for a team that will post them, but most are not in that position.

Uehara argues for giving a player the right to post himself after eight years of service time. This takes the coy game of players being sly about their desires to play in the States, and simply allows a player to say “I’m going” and be done with it.

From pillar to posting system

He said the issue is that posting is 100 percent up to teams and that clubs with deep pockets like Yomiuri and the SoftBank Hawks, can afford to let their free agents go to the States without compensation, while other clubs, who have posted their stars, can’t.

The irony in Yomiuri’s rejecting the posting system for 20 years is that by forcing other teams to accept free agency, Yomiuri unwittingly created a door for Japanese stars to move to the majors without compensation. Not long after free agency was introduced, Hideo Nomo’s success in MLB created a market for Japanese talent. Once that happened, Japanese teams on tighter budgets to get value for stars before they went to the majors as free agents.

No quick fixes

But while it’s easy to say, let’s have automatic posting after eight years of service time, it’s just a patch on a particularly ugly system of labor control that is a legacy of America’s Gilded Age.

The pitcher recently argued for automatic free agency, which would instantly make every player with the necessary service time a free agent. In both cases, he aims to let the system shoulder the burden that players now must carry on their own shoulders of whether to file for free agency or to ask their team to be posted.

And though his solutions are simple to grasp, they would require major changes to the rules, and since the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association is relatively powerless, the owners are in no hurry to undertake systematic reform.

Even if change improves the business, the effort needed eats up time and energy. Besides, as long as things function the way they’re supposed to — even if that way makes no sense — no one in baseball thinks there’s a problem.

The solution at hand

Actually, players don’t need any kind of structural change to force teams to post them, as the SoftBank Hawks could likely tell you. They do, however, need the guts as amateurs to say, “Do it or else.”

A year ago, the Hawks and the Giants passed over a generational talent in the draft, 100-mph high school pitcher Roki Sasaki. The pitcher, who could have opted to turn pro in the States, met with teams interested in him prior to the draft and may well have demanded a contractual agreement to be posted.

This is something that amateurs have a right to do in Japan that they don’t have when turning pro with major league clubs, because of the shape and structure of NPB contracts. The risk, of course, is that teams will discard their draft picks and refuse to sign them — Japanese teams receive no compensation picks for unsigned draft picks.

Having individuals buck the system and make individual demands, as Uehara did, is what he’s aiming to avoid. But simply putting a patch on pro baseball’s autocratic norms won’t change the deeper problem.

The real problem

The problem is not the posting system, but the draft and reserve clause. These deny amateur ballplayers the right to freely negotiate and then tie them to their teams indefinitely.

The current system paints this as normal. Even fans, who would shudder at submitting to that kind of control over their own careers, consider it’s OK for ballplayers to have no choice or freedom, because, well, “It’s normal.”

An ideal solution

But there’s no reason why a more normal framework wouldn’t work, and pro soccer is a great model.

Teams and players can negotiate with whoever they like and agree to fixed-length contracts from Day 1. Players can move when they themselves and both teams agree to the terms, without any of this “players cannot claim any of the money involved in the transfer” nonsense.

Rosters could be limited to keep wealthy teams from hoarding the best talent, while development issues could be solved by having real minor leagues with the same rights over their players that the top flight leagues enjoy.

Applying a normal solution to the radically abnormal pro baseball situation we take for granted may be hard to fathom, but that’s no reason it wouldn’t work. It would be different, and difference in baseball is often interpreted to mean bad, but an organic, humanistic system could be a whole lot better.

I don’t know about you, but I’d find it a lot easier to support Individuals and teams that come together organically instead of having their movements within the system structured the way mazes structure the movement of laboratory rats.

It’s not like it will ever happen, but the world would be a saner and more reasonable place if people didn’t think that autocracy.

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Sugano Free to go

Tomoyuki Sugano, perhapsJapan’s most consistent pitching star over the past seven years, will be allowed to negotiate with major league teams via the posting system this winter if he wishes, the Yomiuri Giants revealed Wednesday night according to multiple Japanese news outlets including Sponichi.

Who wants to go to America?

The 31-year-old’s calling card is plus command, poise, and a plus slider to go with an average to above-average fastball and split, and the consensus among scouts is that he will slot somewhere in between a No. 2 and 4, but would be a plus to any major league team’s rotation.

The move was expected once the Giants’ season ended Wednesday in a 4-0 Japan Series defeat to the Pacific League’s juggernauts, the SoftBank Hawks.

The right-hander, who was a strong candidate this season to win his third Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, took the loss in Game 1 of the series on Saturday, but pitched well.

Sugano has long dreamed of playing in the majors and has not been shy about saying so, although he had never mentioned posting publicly. He reportedly wanted to turn pro with a major league team out of university when the PL’s Nippon Ham Fighters won his draft rights in the autumn of 2011. Instead, he sat out the 2012 season so he could play for the Giants, managed by his uncle, Tatsunori Hara.

Perhaps the biggest reason Sugano might decide to stay is concern over health.

While Japan is now entering a third wave of infections and achieving record numbers — 2,508 new cases nationwide last Saturday — the situation is not nearly as dire-looking here as it is in the States, and baseball games have had limited crowds since mid July. NPB played just completed a 120-game season, paired down from its normal 143 with reduced playoffs.

Here is Kyodo News‘ English story.

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Sugano and the posting system

Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano has been cleared to move to the major leagues via the posting system, the Central League club told multiple Japanese news outlets on Wednesday.

The question now is whether he wants to go. Will he jump toward his long-cherished dream of challenging major league hitters next year or spend another season in a nation that has handled the coronavirus in a more efficient fashion and where the risk of infection is relatively low.

Staying in Japan will mean playing in front of crowds in 2021, something major league baseball cannot offer. Part of the charm of going to the States to play baseball is to play in the splendid parks politicians get taxpayers to buy for billionaire owners. But since no one knows when teams will be allowed to let fans in, it could mean another year of cardboard cutouts in empty barns.

Japanese candidates to move to MLB

For those unfamiliar with Sugano, he is one of the faster starting pitchers in Japan, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball according to analytics site Delta Graphs is 92.5 mph, but that is with plus command. He also has superb command of a plus slider, with an average to above-average fastball and splitter. Think Yu Darvish with less velocity and less than a dozen different pitchers but with consistently better location.

He will be eligible for international free agency after the 2021 season, so there is a chance the Giants will go against their history and post him this autumn.

Not if but when

Japan’s most notorious scandal rag, Tokyo Sports, reported this summer that the Giants were laying the groundwork for a Sugano posting, and one typically wants to ignore anything they publish, but the topic of when Sugano will move to the U.S. majors is one that gets asked A LOT. After all, the winner of the Eiji Sawamura Award as Japan’s most-impressive starting pitcher in 2017 and 2018, threatened to go to MLB if a team other than the Yomiuri Giants drafted him out of university.

Although it is said Sugano’s first choice would have been MLB rather than the Giants, the pull of family ties — his uncle, Tatsunori Hara, managed the team — proved too strong to ignore.

After the Nippon Ham Fighters won his negotiating rights in the 2011 draft, Sugano stayed out of baseball for a year so he would be eligible for the following season’s draft. At that time, the Giants had vowed never to post a player, so it was believed that Sugano would need nine years of service time to qualify for international free agency after the 2021 season at the earliest.

Yamaguchi becomes No. 1

But things have since changed. Last winter, the Giants posted right-hander Shun Yamaguchi. The Giants knew the move was coming and delayed making the announcement as long as they could. But MLB teams were already hearing about it, ostensibly from Yamaguchi’s agent, and the Giants finally made the announcement just before the start of MLB’s general managers meetings, when it was certain to be revealed.

The funny thing about Yamaguchi’s posting was at least one Yomiuri executive calling it an exception that had nothing to do with team policy. What eventually came out was that the team was contractually obligated to post Yamaguchi, after agreeing to that in his supplemental contract.

The hidden game of NPB contracts

While most fans may see the Giants decision to post Sugano as a matter of the team’s respect for his service, and there may be something to that, a more likely consideration would be whether he can require them to do so.

NPB contracts are one-year deals that stipulate a player’s salary for the following year and how it will be paid. When players agree to multiyear contracts, those contracts are referred to as supplemental contracts, riders, or side agreements. Nippon Professional Baseball does not handle these. They are strictly between the player and the team and their details are rarely made public.

Teams that post players may be doing so out of respect and honor but unlike deals in MLB, they are not micromanaged through the filter of the CBA, and could include basically anything that does not violate the terms of NPB’s charter. They couldn’t for example, promise to make a player an owner, or lend him to another team, since those acts are prohibited. But huge undisclosed bonuses? Sure. Promises to post or grant free agency under certain conditions? No problem.

Unless he is hurt and unable to play more than half of the 2021 season, Sugano will be free to walk then. Prior to Yamaguchi’s posting one could not imagine the Giants posting a player, but they DID agree to a deal that required them to do so in order to sign Yamaguchi. Sugano might have that kind of clause in his side deal as well, although we’re unlikely ever to find out.

The only thing we will know is that if Sugano does walk four months from now, the Giants will couch their decisions in terms of how they did at as a sign of respect for the individual and not because they were contractually obligated to do so.

Yamaguchi concludes Blue Jays deal

Right-hander Shun Yamaguchi has concluded his two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, Kyodo News has reported, citing an official source.

Yamaguchi, who joined the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League three years ago as a free agent from the DeNA BayStars, is the first player ever posted by the Giants, Japan’s oldest pro team.

My profile of Yamaguchi is HERE.

Yamaguchi is coming off a career year in 2019 when he tied for the Central League in wins with 15 as the Giants won their first pennant since 2013.

Although pundits are saying Yamaguchi could be effective as a reliever, people should know he became a starter after developing a case of the yips as a reliever. The switch back to starter allowed him to push the reset button and develop his other pitches — a development that was accelerated during his time with the Giants.

Part of that metamorphosis was also likely due to his needing a new challenge, something pitching in the majors will provide in any context.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was the first to report that Yamaguchi’s contract was completed with the Blue Jays as well as the salary info.