In recent years, we’ve had some fun following the will-they-won’t-they drama of Japanese teams and ace pitchers maybe possibly coming over to play in the States. Daisuke Matsuzaka was a while ago, but just a few years ago there was Yu Darvish, and last year we had Masahiro Tanaka. That one was the quintessential Ross and Rachel, with rumors coming seemingly every other day saying his team would post him, then wouldn’t post him, then would post him.
This year’s iteration is shaping up involve Kenta Maeda, a 26-year-old righty who projects to be a solid mid-rotation type in MLB (but for whom some crazy numbers are already being thrown out), who is not a free agent until after the 2016 NPB season. For months now, everyone has expected that the Hiroshima Carp would be posting their ace this offseason, in part because of Maeda’s publicly-expressed desire to play in MLB.
But a report out of Japan indicates that a light brake-tap may be necessary. The Carp’s owner told the Japan Times that they were unlikely to post Maeda this year, saying “We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult.”
Gamesmanship? Well, maybe. But recall, the posting was overhauled last Winter in a way that would seem to remove any incentive for a Japanese team to play these kinds of “maybe we won’t do it unless you bid big” games.
Background on the posting system:
- Japanese teams control the rights of the players they draft and sign (typically as 17/18/19-year-olds) for nine years, rather than the six years (but only in the big leagues) in MLB. In that setup, top Japanese players actually tend to reach free agency a little earlier than top MLB players.
- Before he reaches free agency, however, some Japanese teams like to sell the rights to a player to MLB teams for boatloads of cash. This typically comes, if it comes, about one or two years before the player reaches free agency. (Stop dreaming about Shohei Otani. He ain’t coming for several years.)
- MLB and NPB (Japan’s professional league) got together on a system that would govern how players’ rights are sold, colloquially called the posting system.
- Under the present posting system, MLB teams may bid however much they want to bid for a player’s rights (“posting fee”), up to a maximum bid of $20 million. This is the price of the player’s rights, mind you – after getting the rights, the MLB team still has to sign the player to a contract.
- If multiple teams tie with the top bid, then the player may negotiate with all of those teams, and only the team that actually signs the player (for example, the Yankees last year with Masahiro Tanaka) pays the posting fee to the NPB team.
- The entire process can take several weeks, or even a couple months.
Taking all of that in, and given that Maeda isn’t set for free agency for another couple years, it’s possible that the Carp’s owner isn’t playing games when he says a posting is unlikely. He could also retain Maeda for one more season, and then post him next year. Since his take is capped at $20 million, the only downside risk in waiting a year is injury or extreme ineffectiveness (because, if Maeda pitches adequately again next year, he’ll probably net the maximum posting fee, even in a potentially crowded free agent market).
All in all, it will be interesting to see if Maeda is posted. You’re hoping he is, by the way, regardless of whether the Cubs like him, because it expands the top end of the pitching market a bit, and could take a competitor out of the running for a starter the Cubs are pursuing. The sooner there’s clarity on his situation the better, actually.