The road to 16 teams: the talent pool

This is the second part of a series on the possibility of NPB expanding from 12 to 16 teams. Part 1 is HERE.

Expanding Japanese pro baseball from 12 to 16 or more teams is a tricky operation for a number of reasons but let’s address one here: the talent pool.

Because expansion will dilute the existing talent pool, some will argue it would make Nippon Professional Baseball’s product unmarketable. There is some truth to that. Suddenly adding 280 players to the existing 840 would force many players into starting jobs who could not make that jump without expansion or a rash of injuries.

That would make the games more interesting and lower the quality of execution in each game.

But the other side of the equation is that new jobs will open the door to groups of players: Those teams know can play but can’t commit to, and those that teams don’t know can play but who can.

Take Ichiro Suzuki. He fell somewhere in between those two categories. For two years, manager Shozo Doi wanted him to be a pinch-running, bunting and infield-single hitting defensive replacement. The team knew he could play a little but his refusal to adopt an orthodox batting stance limited his value in the eyes of the organization’s eyes — despite his amazing minor league results.

Even managers who are really good at spotting talent miss guys. Former Chunichi Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai was one of the best in the business at spotting what players were capable of, but he missed the boat entirely with outfielder Teppei Tsuchiya, who became a Best Nine-winning regular with the Rakuten Eagles.

The point is that teams make decisions about players, and often those decisions are wrong. An increase in jobs means more opportunities for players whose only failing is working for a team that doesn’t believe in him.

A side benefit of adding four teams would be bringing an end to NPB’s ridiculous limitation on imported talent. The purpose of that limit is ostensibly to give job opportunities to Japanese players, but it also means intentionally marketing an inferior product to the paying customers. The fans aren’t paying to see players who are Japanese, they’re paying to see baseball, and NPB needs to remember that.

Next, a look at how to identify new teams and cities.

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