On December 16, Major League Baseball and the Japanese professional league, Nippon Professional Baseball, agreed on a new set of rules in regards to the posting of Japanese players to Major League teams. For those of you unfamiliar with how posting works, if a Japanese player would like to play in the U.S. before he reaches nine professional seasons, his Japanese team can post him and receive what amounts to a transfer fee (similar to international soccer) from a Major League team in return for the player being signed by that team.
Prior to a few weeks ago, Major League teams could bid as high as they wished for the services of a NPB player. The two most famous posts of the last few years were Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish. The Boston Red Sox posting fee was 51.7M, and gave Matsuzaka a six year deal worth 56M. The Texas Rangers also had a posting fee of 51.7M, and Darvish’s contract ended up being six years for 60M.
As you can see, posting a player gave the Japanese teams large monetary returns. However, the major change to the NPB/MLB agreement is that posting bids may not exceed 20M. If multiple teams bid the same number, the player is able to negotiate with all the teams, and the winner of the player’s services will pay the posting fee. Basically, this is a major win for Major League Baseball and the Japanese players, and a major loss for the NPB, who has lost leverage in this fight.
One would assume that due to caps being put in place on the posting fee for Japanese players that this would help smaller market teams compete for these players. While it does make it easier for small market teams to be involved in negotiations, the end result is unlikely to be different. Even if a team such as the Brewers were to bid the 20M for a player, it’s likely that they would be outbid by a team who can afford higher financial commitments.
Using Masahiro Tanaka as an example, the Brewers could place the 20M posting bid (along with basically every other team) and be involved in negotiations. Despite being able to be involved in the process, it’s unlikely that the Brewers would be able to put together an offer that could compete with the likes of the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, or even the Mariners. With Tanaka’s contract expected to be north of 100M over 6 years, it does seem unlikely that a Brewers team on a payroll already close to it’s perceived limit (around 90M) would be able to compete for his (or any elite NPB player) services.
The new system doesn’t really change anything when it comes to the end result of player and team. Large market teams will be the destination for Japanese imports in the same way that elite MLB free agents are. The Brewers are about as likely to land Masahiro Tanaka (or any elite NPB player in the near future) as they are to sign any other 100M free agent. This does not mean that the Brewers will never be able to acquire good talent from Japan, but they will have to do it with more under-the-radar signings. Remember, Norichika Aoki was a pretty good player.