Today, it was reported that Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball of Japan are nearing an official agreement to renew the posting system process (that allows Japanese teams to ostensively auction off negotiation rights to their biggest stars).
In the old system, an NPB team would “post” sought-after players on the international market. MLB teams would then bid, with the highest offer receiving exclusive negotiation rights with that player for 30 days.
If no agreement is reached in that time, both the player and the posting fee would be returned to their respective teams.
Japanese teams liked this old system because, as posting fees don’t count toward the luxury tax threshold, MLB teams like the Yankees or Rangers are willing to offer extravagant posting fees (which all goes to the NPB team).
This system also led to domination of big market MLB teams in Japan, as only they could afford outrageous posting costs.
Players, however, were not as big a fan of this system as they had zero control over their next team, and had next to no leverage in negotiating their next multi-year contract (since there was only one team involved).
That agreement expired this offseason, and for weeks it was unclear if a new one would be put in place this year.
The existence of this new agreement greatly affects the free agent pitching market (which has yet to really develop), as teams wait to see if top (quasi-) free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is even available to acquire.
Fortunately, 11/12 NPB teams have voted in favor of agreeing to MLB’s new posting system proposal, which comes with some alterations to the past system.
Most significantly is a max bid of $20 million, which is significantly lower than recent acquisitions (Yu Darvish’s posting fee was $51.7 million for the Rangers; Tanaka’s figures to be much higher).
NPB teams were not thrilled with this measure, and it is not the only wrinkle in the system beginning this offseason.
Additionally, the player in question is now able to negotiate with ANY team that offers the max bid, creating a mini-free agency for a player of Tanaka’s stature (only the team that signs the player actually pays the fee).
For example, if the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, and Rangers all offer $20 million, then a player is free to negotiate with those four teams however he wants.
If the Phillies win (an strange phrase to write), then they are the only one of the four that actually pays the fee.
While the posting fee is lower, the total contract awarded to Tanaka looks to go way up (which contributes more to the luxury tax).
Tanaka is coveted by many teams who like his sterling recent seasons and his lack of an attached draft pick (I’ve written a lot about the merits of signing him here).
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has at least acknowledged his existence, and with ~$30 million left to spend in AAV before hitting the luxury tax in 2014, it looks like the team has the money to spend on him, if they so desire.
This system also appears to be in the Phillies’ favor as well (at least in this instance) – as a team who has only dipped their toes into the international market this year, convincing them to drop $60-80 million on a posting fee additional to any contract signed would have been a difficult task.
Limiting the maximum bid to 1/3 or 1/4 of that makes it much more likely that the Phillies would throw their hat into the ring.
Once their hat IS in the proverbial ring, that’s a good spot to be as a Phillies fan. That’s because, while I may not think Ruben Amaro Jr. is the greatest general manager of all time, there’s not a single GM in baseball I trust more to sign a big name pitcher.
There is one problem, though. Remember how 11/12 teams were in favor of the new agreement? Well, guess who’s team was the only one NOT in favor of it.
So there’s some concern about whether or not the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (seriously, GREAT team name) will actually post Tanaka at all this year – which will send everyone in a mad dash for the top American pitching, driving already insane contracts even higher.
There’s always something.