JAPANESE TOOTH PASTE
Now it begins. And it’s likely to lead to the most interesting off season posting war in Major League Baseball history.
Major League Baseball and Nippon Baseball finally put some ink on the new rules governing negotiations with Japanese players by major league teams. The new posting system effectively reverses the old one, under which the bidding war among major league teams involved the posting process, teams getting just one bid and hoping it was the highest. The team that won that war then had exclusive rights to negotiate with the player, which worked to the team’s advantage because players were then were left with two choices, accept the team’s highest offer or delay their major league career and risk having a reduced value a year later. The posting fee does not count against the salary cap, the salary does, but under the old rules that salary was artificially deflated, giving teams an opportunity to stay under the cap and avoid the extra expense of a luxury tax. Under the new rules any team that is willing to match the highest posting fee can negotiate with the player. With the posting cap now set at $20 million, a fee that is returned to the team if they don’t come to terms with the player within thirty days, the field is pretty much wide open. The new rule goes into effect just as, arguably, the most coveted Japanese pitcher of all time, Masahiro Tanaka, is expected to go on the block, if his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, chooses to post him.
Tanaka went 24-0 last season with a 1.27 E.R.A. He’s been high on the Yankees radar for nearly a year and under the old posting rules he would have fit nicely under the luxury tax level they’re hoping to avoid. With the new rules, however, a posting limit well below the $50 million plus the “haves” of the baseball world have posted in the past, and a guaranteed return of that money if negotiations fail, one baseball insider says, where the Yankees, Angels, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Dodgers, had been considered the teams most likely to post, now more than 15 teams can be expected to do so, and the Red Sox can probably be counted among them, if only to keep the price on an upward trend as long as the Yankees stay in the bidding. It’s only after the bidding begins in earnest, with Tanaka’s agents using the inflated contracts such free market gambles as Phil Hughes, Jason Vargas and Bartolo Colon recieved as a measuring stick, that the “have-nots” will start to fall out of the bidding war, which will then begin for real among the heavy hitters, with the reverse effect of, now, artificially inflating the salary, and the salary cap.
The Yankees do have a couple of advantages beyond bidding. The most revered of the Japanese cross overs, Ichiro Suzuki, is on their roster, and the Japanese player most marketed in his homeland during his major league days, Hideki Matsui, starred for the Yankees during his prime and retired as a Yankee.
None of this can begin, however, until the Golden Eagles make their decision on posting Tanaka. If and when that happens, this promises to be the most intense bidding ever for a Japanese player, resulting in the highest salary ever paid for a Japanese import. The toothpaste will be out of the tube.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.