Hiroyuki Nakajima is one of the top shortstops in Japanese baseball, possibly even the best at the moment. A versatile infielder with a good bat and a slick mix of power and speed, Nakajima would seem to have the tools necessary to carve out a niche for himself in the major leagues.
Nakajima may well turn out to be a solid major leaguer, but we’ll have to wait and see, since Friday’s news that he couldn’t agree on a contract with the New York Yankees means he’ll spend 2012 with the Seibu Lions.
Nakajima will get his shot in MLB eventually. The real impact of the situation is that it further highlights the fallacies of the posting system, which also failed Hisashi Iwakuma last year.
After a few narrow misses in the past, the system has failed in back-to-back years — with Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki still yet to negotiate contracts this year — and it’s time for a change.
The posting system was never a particularly good idea to begin with. It was more or less a way of repairing the strained relationship between NPB and MLB caused by Hideo Nomo’s defection to the U.S. in the winter of 1994, and the tug-of-wars for the rights to Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano later in the decade.
The compromise was supposed to facilitate everyone, but only one party benefits fully.
It certainly isn’t the players, who have no control over the process and may miss out on bigger contracts initially, since MLB teams essentially make two payments for their services. Also, because the system grants the highest bidding club exclusive rights, players enter negotiations with zero leverage.
For MLB teams, the process has been a blow to the wallet. Lately, given the recent economic downturn and seeing the dwindling returns the Yankees and Boston Red Sox have gotten for Kei Igawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka, many MLB executives have been critical of the process and more apprehensive about throwing gobs of money into it — except in the case of rare talents such as Darvish.
Admittedly that’s not without good reason, considering the six players to have played at least four seasons at the MLB level after being posted have combined to produce only seven seasons with a WAR (wins above replacement) above 5.0. Six of those belong to Ichiro Suzuki, with the other Matsuzaka’s 5.1-WAR campaign in 2008.
Only two others, Igawa and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, of the 11 successfully posted even made it to the majors. Nishioka was only posted in 2010, but Igawa has been a bust with a career record of 2-4, a 6.66 ERA and 1.0 WAR in 16 MLB appearances since the Yankees invested $46 million in him in 2007.
Really, the only party guaranteed a net gain is the Japanese team’s front office, which reaps the financial benefits, provided the player signs with the high bidder.
The system needs changing, but there won’t be an easy fix.
One solution could be to allow players to negotiate with each team that submits a bid. Or have the NPB team set the posting fee, and allow players to attempt to reach a deal with any club willing to pay.
Alternatively, why not let posted players negotiate with all 30 MLB franchises, with the NPB club receiving a fee equal to a percentage of a player’s contract.
Any fix will come too late for Nakajima, who may end up better off as a free agent next winter if he puts up solid numbers during the upcoming season with the Lions.
Nevertheless, the system’s warts have been revealed again, and maybe it’s time for a change.