The Japan Professional Baseball Players Association showed rare backbone two years ago when, in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the players banded together and succeeded in getting the start of the season pushed back as the nation dealt with the disaster.
This past summer JPBPA rallied together again, this time in opposition to what it felt was the unfair way money was divvied up among the participating nations of the World Baseball Classic. Despite Japan’s standing as the two-time defending champion of the event, and NPB’s agreement to participate in 2013, the players voted to skip the WBC unless their demands were met. They eventually ended up with a few concessions from NPB and reversed course a few months later.
Now there is a new challenge on the horizon.
Major League Baseball is reportedly seeking to have changes made to the posting system, and it would be in Japanese players’ best interests to again make their voices heard.
The posting system has enabled many players to ply their trade in the majors, but it comes with unnecessary restrictions, and the time to just be happy there’s a mechanism in place at all has long since passed.
The union was never really invested in the process from the start, and on the heels of two successful displays of unity, now is the time for the union to attempt do something that helps makes the posting system more tenable.
Players currently have little leverage and are essentially held hostage by the process.
Japanese teams have to not only first agree to post a player, but then also deem the posting fee acceptable. The Yomiuri Giants’ Koji Uehara, the Hanshin Tigers’ Kyuji Fujikawa and the Seibu Lions’ Hiroyuki Nakajima all hit the wall in this regard in past seasons. That trio was eventually forced to wait out the nine-year service time requirement needed to reach international free agency.
After players are posted, the athlete is limited to negotiating with the MLB franchise that wins the bid process and has to return to Japan if the two sides can’t reach an agreement in 30 days, which happened to Hisashi Iwakuma in 2010 and Nakajima last year.
Players also see dollars that would otherwise go to them lining the pockets of their former NPB clubs as part of the posting fee.
Major league teams don’t come out much better. The blind bidding process puts them in a delicate position, and the system of paying twice to procure one unproven (by MLB standards) player, is neither a popular nor particularly economic one.
Sure, the Texas Rangers’ $110 million investment ($51.7 posting, $60 million contract) in Yu Darvish might work out in the long run, but that won’t console New York Yankees fans still ruing the two wins and 6.66 ERA over 16 appearances in two years gotten in return for the $46 million ($26 million posting fee, $20 million contract) sunk into Kei Igawa, or Red Sox fans still smarting over Daisuke Matsuzaka’s $103 million ($51 million posting fee, $52 million contract) price tag.
For NPB clubs there’s little reason to shake up the status quo, something they’re generally adverse to doing as it is.
Japanese teams reap the financial benefits if a posting is successful, and in the case of failure are resigned to spending another season with a fan-favorite, All-Star caliber talent on the roster.
With MLB pushing for change, there could hardly be a better time for JPBPA to step to the plate.
Maybe MLB’s powers of persuasion are enough, but don’t expect NPB teams to change things for the better simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
It’s up to the players to tap into their fighting spirit again and see if their newfound strength yields another victory.