Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Ryosuke Kikuchi joins list of players to hit wall in posting system

by Jason Coskrey

Musing about whether or not certain players will get posted is fairly commonplace in discussions about the top NPB players these days.

So much so it’s easy to forget being posted is only the first hurdle players under contract have to clear on the way to North America.

Something the Hiroshima Carp’s Ryosuke Kikuchi reminded everyone of this week.

Of the three NPB players who attempted to move to MLB through the posting system this offseason, only two, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Shun Yamaguchi, made it through successfully. They landed with the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively.

Kikuchi, however, will be returning to Hiroshima after a slow market led the 29-year-old to reverse course. The dynamic infielder signed a new four-year deal worth ¥300 million per year on Friday. Kikuchi had until Jan. 2 to reach an MLB deal through the posting system.

“Because I’ll be on a long contract from next year, I want to become a leader,” he said during a news conference on Friday.

Kikuchi isn’t the first player who failed to make it through the posting system. He isn’t even the first Carp player. The club posted Timo Perez in 1999 and re-signed the outfielder after no MLB team bid for his rights.

Prior to this year, there had been eight players to go through the system without landing with a MLB club.

In most cases, it was due to a lack of bids from major league teams. Former Seibu Lions pitcher Koji Mitsui was posted twice in the same offseason — first in December of 2008 and then January of 2009 — and found no takers either time.

Even MLB interest is no guarantee.

Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, in 2010, and infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, in 2011, each had their rights picked up by MLB clubs but had to return to Japan after failing to come to terms on contracts with those teams.

Kikuchi is the first to return unsuccessfully since the posting system was revamped, essentially lowering the potential posting fees, in 2017.

Of the eight players posted unsuccessfully, however, five eventually made their way into MLB organizations sometime after their initial roadblock. Former Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Tony Barnette actually ended up signing a deal with the Texas Rangers a few weeks after his posting period ended in 2015. Major league clubs, likely aware the Swallows might allow the star reliever to pursue an MLB job, saved $500,000 (Barnette’s posting fee) by waiting until he was released.

Out for revenge

The Orix Buffaloes’ signing of Adam Jones caught the attention of many in the baseball world.

Kodai Senga was among them, and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks ace has a good reason.

When the two met during the semifinals of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Jones hit a grounder off Senga that was bobbled by third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda and allowed the U.S. to score the go-ahead run in eighth inning of a game it would win 2-1 over Samurai Japan.

With Jones now in the Pacific League, Senga will get another crack at the American.

“He’s the one who connected on that grounder,” Senga told the Nishinippon Shimbun in Fukuoka, harkening back to that cool, wet night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Senga seemed pleased by the development.

“It’s good for the Japanese baseball world to have a player with a that kind of proven track record come to Japan.”

Not going anywhere

Yuki Yanagita re-signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for a whopping seven years on Thursday. Before Yanagita, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto agreed to a seven-year deal this spring.

While this could be nothing, it could also be the start of something interesting in NPB.

Those deals come after the Hawks signed young American pitcher Carter Stewart to a six-year contract. The Hiroshima Carp gave Xavier Batista and Alejandro Mejia six-year contracts in 2017 and signed Geronimo Franzua to one last year.

Before this year, per a listing in Nikkan Sports, there had been just three deals of seven or more years in NPB since free agency began in 1993. There have now been six since 2017, with two involving Japanese players.

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