Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

Yusei Kikuchi's move shows revised posting system not great for NPB clubs

by Jason Coskrey

Why would an NPB team post its best players now?

If the going rate for someone like Yusei Kikuchi, one of the best pitchers in Japan, is only just over $10 million, how long before NPB clubs see the value in just keeping their top talent until their contracts run out?

Kikuchi’s posting shows the MLB-inspired revision of the system will cost Japanese teams going forward and that NPB, and its players, should take notice.

The previous agreement had been in effect since 2013 before being retooled last winter.

That system, which capped posting fees at $20 million, wasn’t perfect, but at least had something for everyone. Major league teams were protected from fees skyrocketing, as they did during the blind-bidding process that saw Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish draw posting fees of over $51 million. Japanese teams, though denied the prospect of a huge payday, could still get a significant sum for letting their best players leave early. The players were the biggest winners, gaining a measure of control once put on the market.

That system was itself a concession to MLB teams, which were at a disadvantage when they had to blindly bid for a player’s rights.

What’s in place now, however, strips even more away from the NPB side. Enough that it may lead teams to reconsider their stances.

The fee now depends on the contract the player signs. When Masahiro Tanaka was posted in 2013, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles knew, through gritted teeth, they were getting a $20 million return no matter what deal Tanaka signed.

Now, for player contracts up to $25 million, the NPB team gets 20 percent of the guaranteed value. A deal worth between $25-50 million adds 17.5 percent of the value beyond $25 million to the posting fee. Contracts signed above $50 million add another 15 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $50 million.

Kikuchi signed a four-year deal that will pay him $43 million for three years and has a $13 million player option in 2022. As a posting fee, Seibu gets $10,275,000.

In terms of options, “a Japanese team may receive a supplemental fee equal to 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalators actually earned by the player, and/or 15 percent of any option that is exercised,” according to MLB.com.

Because the Mariners can exercise a four-year, $66 million-extension, the Lions could gain a little money down the line. Except that it’s entirely determinant on how the Mariners view Kikuchi’s performance and health.

It wouldn’t be surprising if more posted players received similar contracts. It allows the MLB team to essentially hold back money from the NPB side until it sees how things play out.

MLB owners have their pockets protected from, well, themselves — because some team will always pay — and NPB teams get a raw deal. The Lions lost their best pitcher, who was under contract, and won’t even sniff market value (let alone $20 million) for him.

The system might not have a major impact for the best of the best players, who might be expected to garner deals big enough to satisfy their NPB team. But there might be more questions one level down.

To use one example, MLB teams don’t value Japanese hitters as much as pitchers. So how much incentive would there be (ignoring any promises that may have been made), for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows to post Tetsuto Yamada? Especially for a fee that’s diminished from past years and out of their control? Would the Yokohama BayStars deem it worth it to just keep Yoshitomo Tsutsugo around and try to win with him before he reaches full free agency?

Japanese baseball agreed to all this, so it’s possible it’ll be business as usual. But it’s not inconceivable to see teams decide it’s not worth it outside of those rare gems like Tanaka or Darvish, who would almost be certain to get a sizable deal.

That stance might lead to a few top amateurs skipping NPB altogether, giving MLB its pipeline of cheap talent. Or it could force the pro union to find its backbone and initiate a showdown over how much service time it takes to accrue international free agency rights in the first place or some guaranteed posting window.

Or it might lead to nothing. Because just like posting fees now, there are no guarantees.