It all makes sense now.
Earlier today, a report out of Japan indicated that the NPB players association had accepted a proposal from MLB to get a new posting system agreement in place for shipping under-contract Japanese players to MLB. The prior agreement, under which a simple blind bidding system was used, expired earlier this year. The new system would still grant the negotiating rights to the MLB team with the highest bid, but the payment price would be the average of the top two bids.
It struck me that this wouldn’t really do the one thing MLB had sought to do in this process, which was push the posting prices down. But, the report exuded confidence that an agreement was in place, and we all went on our merry way plotting Masahiro Tanaka’s eventual arrival in New York or L.A.
At the GM Meetings this morning, specifically the owner’s meetings there, Ken Rosenthal reported that some owners were expressing doubt that a deal would get done. I was confused: hadn’t a report in Japan just said that the NPB players association accepted MLB’s offer, and the NPB would soon sign off? Why would MLB be the one making an offer to be accepted if there is a belief among some owners that a deal wouldn’t get done in the first place?
That’s where a handy new report by the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff comes in, and fills in the blanks. In short, everything transpired as reported, but not all owners are on board with the new posting system. He quotes MLB’s COO Rob Manfred as saying, “When we gave [NPB] the offer, we told them we needed a timely response because there could be shifting winds. There are shifting winds.” In other words, NPB has taken its time accepting, formally, MLB’s posting system plan – indeed, there are still some approvals needed in Japan – and, in the meantime, some owners have started rallying support to oppose the system MLB devised.
The identities of those owners shouldn’t surprise you: it’s the small market clubs, for obvious reasons. In a league that is otherwise designed to balance out the financial side of things to put teams on a relatively even playing ground, astronomic posting fees for exclusive negotiating rights favor only the large market teams. Read Davidoff’s piece for an account of just how things are playing out.
What happens now? Well, it depends on whether the small market clubs can get more owners to rally to their side. If they have enough support to scuttle this particular proposal (the “top two bidder average price, but only one winner” proposal), the entire process might be sufficiently delayed to inhibit any Japanese players from being posted this offseason in a timely manner.
If Tanaka is not posted this offseason, his team could try to post him again next year – the year before he reaches free agency. And, if not deal is in place by then, MLB teams will just have to wait two more years for Tanaka to reach that free agency.
From the Cubs’ perspective, this entire discussion is interesting. With respect to Tanaka, specifically, the Cubs would probably side with the smaller market clubs, hoping for a system that allows more teams to the table. But with respect to the system, generally, and in the long-term? The Cubs might prefer the big-money, blind-bidding system after all.
On the balance, I’d still bet that a deal gets done soon enough for posting to continue this year. It just might not quite be the same posting system we’ve been used to in the past. One suggestion from a small market club? The posting fee counts against the luxury tax cap. You can imagine how well that idea was received by the Yankees.