After a whirldwind of rumors about the new posting agreement between MLB and Japan’s NPB that briefly looked like it might include benefits for MLB teams with poor records — sorry, Astros fans! — we’re finally gaining some clarity on what the system will be.
Rather than the old “blind bid” system, where teams would have to submit dollar figures to even gain the right to speak to the player (which sometimes led to one team massively outbidding everyone else, since no one knew what the competition was doing), it appears that the two sides have set a $20m maximum bid on the posting process. (Teams don’t have to bid up to $20m, and for lesser players they won’t, but for Masahiro Tanaka, they obviously will.) In the case of multiple teams bidding, then the player is free to negotiate with any of the teams that submitted the maximum number.
That’s a huge win for MLB, which will spend less on posting, and for Japanese players, who now get some amount of say over where they want to go and will likely get more of the money. It’s seemingly a big loss for NPB, since posting fees were getting up into the $60m range for top players. (Many have asked why in the world NPB would agree to this, and to be honest, I don’t know. It’s been floated that perhaps MLB would have just backed out of an agreement altogether, meaning posting fees would be zero.)
So how does this affect the Dodgers? It’s not particularly great for bigger teams, because the shift in money from posting fee to salary (presumably) means that more of it is going to be a hit on the luxury tax. Perhaps the Dodgers don’t care, and so far they haven’t; it’s still not great.
This also means that more teams are going to be in on Tanaka than they would have been. Before, there were maybe five to seven teams who could have afforded the posting fee and his contract. Now, there’s literally not a single team in baseball who shouldn’t be in. Since only the team that signs him has to cough up the posting fee, and anyone else who bid keeps their cash, there’s absolutely no risk. You say “oh, sure, $20m,” knowing that you almost certainly won’t have to give it up, but it at least gets you in the game on the off chance that Tanaka has always dreamed of playing in, say, Milwaukee, and you can at least tell your fans you tried. It won’t be 30 teams involved, but it absolutely should be.
Really, for Tanaka, it’s no longer a “posting” in the traditional sense. It’s essentially an open free agent process with a $20m tax — again, that’s very good for the player, and also for smaller market teams, but it does hurt the Dodgers, Yankees, etc., since there will be more competition now.
There’s also the fact that Tanaka’s NPB team, the Golden Eagles, was reportedly the only team to vote against the agreement. They’re under no obligation to post him, and some reports indicate they may not. I don’t believe that they will hold him back, though they could certainly keep him for another season and just collect $20m next winter, too. Or, much less likely, for two more seasons before he’s a real free agent. But based on comments the team’s management has made, I think they’ll end up letting him go now.
Anyway, while this new system — which is not 100% final yet, to be sure — isn’t exactly great for the Dodgers, it hardly counts them out. They’ll bid the $20m to get in the game, as they should, and from there it’s no different than any other free agent. They’ll be able to tell Tanaka that they can pay him more than any other team, unless the Yankees go nuts, and they can pitch him on the pros of Los Angeles and the good history the Dodgers have had with Asian players. Either way, this is far from over.