Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball are reportedly close to establishing a new set of rules on how MLB teams acquire non-free-agent Japanese players. The major elements of the deal have been agreed on, according to Japanese news reports.
From MLB’s perspective, the most vital part of the new system is the $20-million limit that MLB teams can bid for players. When Yu Darvish was auctioned by his NPB team two years ago, the Texas Rangers won his rights with a $51.7-million bid –- and that didn’t include the $60-million contract to which they later signed him.
Under the new rules, if multiple teams bid the maximum amount, the player would be free to negotiate with any of those teams. There would be no limit on how much the teams could pay the player.
This could turn Tanaka into something resembling a free agent, as several teams could bid $20 million for his rights -- if the Rakuten Golden Eagles decide to make him available.
Darvish tweeted Thursday that for a posting fee of only $20 million, the Golden Eagles couldn’t make Tanaka available. The Golden Eagles are under no obligation to auction Tanaka.
“If this was good for Tanaka or bad for him isn’t for me to determine,” said Golden Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima, the head of the Japanese players union.
The Golden Eagles were the only one of the 12 NPB teams to oppose the $20-million cap.
The Golden Eagles could decide to hold on to Tanaka for two more years, after which the 25-year-old right-hander would be eligible to move to the United States as an unrestricted free agent. However, doing so would cost them the $20-million rights fee.
Or they could keep him for another season and auction him next winter, when MLB teams would probably still pay them the $20 million for his rights.
However, if the Golden Eagles don’t make Tanaka available immediately, they will certainly face a significant backlash from the Japanese public. The fear of such a reaction was said to be a significant factor in making NPB cave to MLB’s demands.
And, in recent weeks, the Golden Eagles had publicly backed Tanaka’s move.
Less than two weeks ago, Golden Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani was asked by one of his Twitter followers if Tanaka could pitch in the major leagues.
Mikitani replied, “At this point, it’s up to the big leagues. Honestly, it hurts our club but I think it’s good for young people to challenge themselves.”
Golden Eagles Manager Senichi Hoshino also came out in support of Tanaka pitching in the majors.
“Personally, I’m in favor of a young man challenging himself in America,” he said.