The flip side of free agency

Or how it can pay to let the Giants sign your players…

Yoshihiro Maru is interviewed by three-time Olympic wrestling champion Saori Yoshida a day after the Hiroshima Carp clinched the first of their three straight CL pennants in 2016.

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.

How free agency works in Japan

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

Prev YearFAFA RFut. W SCompComp RLast WSFut. WS
2007石井 一久Kazuhisa Ishii24.2福地 寿樹Kazuki Fukuchi6.338.4
2007新井 貴浩Takahiro Arai138.8赤松 真人Masato Akamatsu0.337.5
2001加藤 伸一Shinichi Kato4.5ユウキYuki Tanaka22.3
2013大竹 寛Kan Otake16.8一岡 竜司Ryuji Ichioka0.121
2013片岡 治大Yasuyuki Kataoka22.6脇谷 亮太Ryota Wakiya2.813.5
2005野口 茂樹Shigeki Noguchi0.7小田 幸平Kohei Oda0.19.4
2011村田 修一Shuichi Murata83.3藤井 秀悟Shugo Fujii09.3
2005豊田 清Kiyoshi Toyoda21.3江藤 智Akira Eto0.27.2
2006門倉 健Ken Kadokura0.5工藤 公康Kimiyasu Kudo1.56.9
2013久保 康友Yasutomo Kubo22.8鶴岡 一成Kazunari Tsuruoka7.66.3
2010小林宏Hiroyuki Kobayashi0.6髙濱 卓也Takuya Takahama5.4
2016山口 俊Shun Yamaguchi8.7平良 拳太郎Kentaro Taira04.8
2012寺原 隼人Hayato Terahara10.9馬原 孝浩Takahiro Mahara3.8
2007和田 一浩Kazuhiro Wada159.6岡本 真也Shinya Okamoto6.73.6
2012平野 恵一Keiichi Hirano19.6高宮 和也Kazuya Takamiya03.6
2001前田 幸長Yukinaga Maeda15.4平松 一宏Kazuhiro Hiramatsu03
2016糸井 嘉男Yoshio Itoi35.6金田 和之Kazuyuki Kaneda0.12.2
2006小久保 裕紀Hiroki Kokubo73.3吉武 真太郎Shintaro Yoshitake4.32.1
2013鶴岡 慎也Shinya Tsuruoka13.5藤岡 好明Yoshiaki Fujioka2.61.8
2014相川 亮二Ryoji Aikawa8奥村 展征Nobuyuki Okumura1.7
1995河野 博文Hirofumi Kono10.6川邉 忠義Tadayoshi Kawabe0.8
2017大和Yamato Maeda7.1尾仲 祐哉Yuya Onaka00.4
2011大村 三郎Saburo Omura19.3高口 隆行Takayuki Takaguchi0.30.1
2013涌井 秀章Hideaki Wakui41.7中郷 大樹Taiki Nakago2.40
2017野上 亮磨Ryoma Nogami2.2高木 勇人Hayato Takagi2.10
2018炭谷 銀仁朗Ginjiro Sumitani内海 哲也Tetsuya Utsumi3.8
2018丸 佳浩Yoshihiro Maru長野 久義Hisayoshi Chono10.9
2018西 勇輝Yuki Nishi竹安 大知Daichi Takeyasu0.6
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.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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