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Status of posting system may put Tanaka in limbo

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Masahiro Tanaka figures to be one of the most intriguing NPB exports if the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles decide to post the star right-hander after the season.

It’s widely believed Tanaka will request to make the move to the major leagues, and that Rakuten will acquiesce, but there is a slight possibility there won’t be a posting system for him to use this year.

Negotiations concerning changes to the system have been ongoing since last year, but Sports Nippon is reporting that because the MLB’s focus has been so tied up in its ongoing drug scandal, a new agreement might not be in place in time for the 2013 offseason. The paper says the talks have been positive.

If a system is not agreed upon by the offseason, it would leave contracted NPB players like Tanaka without a clear path toward making the jump to the U.S. in the offseason.

“We are in negotiations right now. I’m afraid that that is all we can say at the moment,” Nobby Ito, NPB’s chief of International Baseball Operations told The Japan Times.

An MLB representative could not be reached for comment.

It was the MLB that reportedly wanted to tweak the system, which was signed into existence in 1998 in response to the problems raised in prior seasons by the moves of Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano from Japan to the majors, with their teams receiving nothing in return.

The system is an expensive endeavour for MLB clubs, which must first pay a posting fee, decided through a blind bidding process, to a player’s NPB team, then sign him to a separate contract.

The Seattle Mariners got more than their money’s worth out of the over $27 million investment ($13 million posting fee and $14 million contract) spent on Ichiro Suzuki in 2000, and Yu Darvish is currently paying dividends for the Texas Rangers, who spent over $113 million ($51 million fee plus $62 million deal) to acquire him in 2012.

The New York Yankees, however, famously spent $46 million ($26 million fee, $20 million deal) on Kei Igawa in 2006, only to see him be a colossal bust.

Yahoo Sports reported last year that MLB was talking about turning the blind bidding process into an open auction, which might lower posting fees. Such a change would also likely result in players pocketing more money, something MLB and its union are said to favor.

While NPB teams would probably be happy to maintain the status quo, that is not seen as a hinderance in the talks.

“We are talking about things, including that right now,” Ito said.