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.”
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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