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 Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano will be back in Japan for 2021, and though he probably is not the best pitcher in Japan right now as some in the U.S. media have labeled him in the crush for hyperbola, he’s not far from the best.
I speculated on some of the reasons why a Japanese star should not just leap into a major league deal, and Sugano himself cited the direction MLB is going during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, Japan got a bit of perspective.
“It wasn’t something I could be 100 percent satisfied,” Sugano told Japan’s media.
His agent, Joel Wolfe, had a media availability, a portion of which was aired on TV in Japan and that clip was then shared on Twitter.
Wolfe: “It was very tough.”
—How many teams made a clear offer?
Wolfe: “Six. He had several four-year offers, three-year offers and two-year offers.. Our expectation and his expectation what a fair contract was a bit different. And I ended up having to call that general manager with two minutes to go. “
Wolfe: “He was able to draw on his relationships with (Yu) Darvish and (Kenta) Maeda. They all offered so much assistance and advice. I don’t think he will ever regret…”
Wolfe: “I think the major league teams are really going to regret…”
Although Wolfe implied money kept the two sides apart, it could well be that the money offered was not enough to outweigh Sugano’s concerns about playing in the States now.
Waseda University manager Satoru Komiyama, for years the workhorse of the Lotte Marines rotation, and briefly a New York Met, threw in his two cents. In a Facebook comment, he said considerations of money shouldn’t matter if one really desires to work from a major league mound. He suggested that agents, not players, were the ones who made a big deal about contract value.
When veteran Japanese stars take pay cuts to play in the majors, or who turn their back on minor-league deals to return to lucrative contracts with their old teams in Japan, there are questions.
I have questioned the quick U-turns of Takashi Toritani, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Ryosuke Kikuchi. Each espoused a great desire to play abroad, but at the same time prioritized a happy exit from their Japanese clubs. None of them would negotiate past a certain date, they said, because that would leave their clubs back home in a bind about whether or not they would be available for the upcoming season.
To be sure, Matsuda’s case was unusual. A Japanese attorney negotiating his next contract with the Hawks complicated his American agent’s negotiations by talking directly to the San Diego Padres’ people on the ground in Fukuoka.
Every deal, however, is unique in its way because every player has different concerns for his career, for his life off the field and for his family. It’s probably never JUST about money.
Sugano really wanted to play in the majors. Either that or he’s been really good at making people think that for years.
On Sunday, SoftBank Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh, who would have given some part of his anatomy for a chance to play in the majors when he was young, told TBS network’s Sunday Morning, “He absolutely wanted to go.”
“I believe he wanted to see how well his pitching skill would play in America.”
Sugano has reportedly received a four-year offer from Yomiuri with annual opt-outs allowing him to go a year from now if he likes, although he could also sign a one-year deal and file for international free agency if he can compile the necessary service time.
“Is next year the best chance for him given his age? I think so,” Oh said. “But I think he really wanted to do it now.”
Tomoyuki Sugano is returning to the Yomiuri Giants instead of signing a deal with a major league team through the posting system.
Before Sugano announced his decision to seek a major league contract, the 31-year-old Yomiuri Giants ace expressed concern about the risk of playing the 2021 season where the coronavirus pandemic was far worse and where pro baseball was far less secure than back home. Indeed, in a comment released by the team, Sugano cited the effects of the pandemic on his decision-making process.
“I concluded I would play for the Giants this season, too, after assessing the trends in the majors due to the novel coronavirus,”
Tomoyuki Sugano, in a statement translated by Kyodo News
But the coronavirus is no longer the only shadow clouding Japanese players’ dreams of going to the majors.
The economics of MLB used to mean a huge pay raise for top stars coming from Japan’s two leagues, where salaries never exceed $10 million a year–We don’t really know what Japan’s highest salaries are or were, since teams and players tell reporters whatever figures they like.
MLB used to be about maximizing revenues from marketing entertaining baseball games with a healthy dose of civic extortion to leverage good sweet ballpark deals. But return on investment is now the goal rather than building a marketable baseball product.
At first, four teams were reported to be in on Sugano, but the New York Mets opted out of the fray, and this week it appeared the Boston Red Sox could not meet Sugano’s price.
It is not the first time a front-line Japanese starting pitcher’s salary expectations have not been met by the marketplace. In the winter of 2010-2011, Hisashi Iwakuma, able then to negotiate with only the winner of his posting bid, failed to find a middle ground between a figure he would accept and the A’s valuation of him.
The A’s were trying to exploiting market inefficiencies, and didn’t have to compete with other teams, but the new efficiency has less to do with getting baseball value at the best price than cutting out everything that might be a temporary drag on the budget.
But now the push to drive down salaries is at full throttle, fueled by anti-competitive situation where the U.S.’s pro baseball monopoly is using its leverage to suppress its labor market.
MLB’s pampered billionaire owners are pleading poverty as they fire already-poverty stricken minor leaguers as well as scouts, coaches and operations staff who represent the bones, tendons, ligaments and nervous system of the pro baseball bodies.
This is not an isolated event, but rather a symptom of the current Make America Gilded Again movement.
So was electing a crass transaction-driven self-described mogul president meant abandoning America’s pandemic prevention regime, including research presences in likely hot spots, such as Wuhan, China because they represented only budgetary costs but added nothing to the profit line.
America is now becoming a modern parody of the late 19th century, where oligarchs ratchet up exploitation of poor labor, while suppressing civil rights.
Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capital building by domestic terrorists, who chant “Blue Lives (marginalizing minorities) Matter” overran law enforcement officers, who responded to the whitebread assault with the kind of restraint unseen when BLM activists were caught in the open a minute after curfew and beaten.
It was an echo of reconstruction era America, where domestic terrorism was accepted and its enablers welcomed in the capital with rarely as much as a wringing of hands.
This is America now, where a large swath of the population has embraced the belief that they are being discriminated against because their white privilege is being called into question by the majority of their countrymen.
This is the America where a TV personality can be elected president through voter suppression and is allowed to encourage racist behavior against others. It is the America where his true believers use his calling the coronavirus the “Chinese flu” as an excuse to harass Asians in public.
It is the America from where Masahiro Tanaka abandoned training in Florida after spring training was canceled. He has a family and was rightly concerned about their well being in a country where a spiteful angry minority has been empowered by a demagog.
Even if the president is removed from office, he is a symptom of an environment where clever people in media make a living peddling lies and conspiracy theories to the insecure and the gullible, and where a two-party system locks out independents and is beholden to oligarchs.
Wednesday’s insurrection has woken a few to the current dangers, but if I were Sugano and Tanaka, who is currently a free agent, I’d consider myself lucky to have a route back to Japan.
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.
Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano traveled to the United States on Friday to meet with agent Joel Wolfe, Sponichi Annex reported on Saturday, citing a source.
The 31-year-old Sugano, the pick of available players moving from Japan this winter, has long expressed a desire to play in the majors, but has also voiced concern about playing there in 2021 with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.
His deadline to sign a contract after being posted by the Giants of Japan’s Central League is Thursday, 5 p.m., EST.