As Major League Baseball fans currently await the terms of Yu Darvish‘s seemingly inevitable contract with the Texas Rangers—and to a lesser extent the contracts of Hiroyuki Nakajima and Norichika Aoki—the criticisms of the posting system agreed upon between Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league arise once again.
Last year, the Oakland Athletics won the bidding for Japanese starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma with a bid of $19.1 million, however, contract negotiations broke down, Oakland was returned their money, and Iwakuma returned to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Off the bat, this raised controversy over the posting system’s failures, in that Iwakuma was unable to bring his talents to Major League Baseball due to differences over his potential salary with Oakland. This year, there were rumors swirling that the Toronto Blue Jays may have planned on outbidding everyone for Yu Darvish‘s rights, simply to block other teams from signing him for at least a year. While this didn’t happen, a lot of people in the baseball industry felt that a move like that, coupled with the failure to bring Iwakuma over, would cause the posting system to be looked at and changed.
Originally, the posting system had good intentions, and served a quality purpose. When some Japanese players—namely Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu, and Alfonso Soriano—exploited loopholes in their contracts to come play in the U.S., their Japanese clubs were left with nothing and frustrated, as they should have been. The posting system came into play, in which Major League Baseball teams have four days to place a one-time, confidential bid on a player posted, and the winner then receives thirty days of exclusive negotiations with the player. The Japanese club only sees the amount of the winning bid before deciding on whether to allow the bid or not. However, even with its faults, the posting system is a far superior option to the United States—Japanese Player Contract Agreement, which came into play in 1967, following the dispute between the San Fransisco Giants and Nankai Hawks over the rights to left-handed pitcher Masanori Murakami.
Masanori Murakami was sent over to the Giants’ A-ball affiliate in Fresno to learn the game, as something of an exchange student. Murakami excelled, and was eventually called up to the Giants in 1964 as a 20-year-old and became the first Japanese-born player to appear in a Major League Baseball game, having exceptional success as a reliever. Following the 1965 season, Murakami returned to Japan to fulfill his contractual obligations, despite the Giants desire to keep him on their roster. The United States—Japanese Player Contract Agreement came into play, which essentially meant that NPB players would stay in Japan, and MLB and minor leaguers would stay in North America. Eventually, the disparity between the two leagues became more and more obvious (NPB is considered roughly the equivalent of somewhere around AA or AAA baseball today), and in the 1990’s, Japan’s players wanted to come stateside and try their hand at the Majors. Hideo Nomo was the first, retiring from NPB after the 1994 season to come play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, signing a 3 year, $4.3 million contract. Nomo was able to come stateside due to the NPB’s reserve clause only being able to control his actions within Japanese baseball.
The second incident leading to the posting system was Hideki Irabu, who was to be traded from the Chiba Lotte Marines to the San Diego Padres, despite Irabu’s clearly desired intentions on only playing for the New York Yankees. After a lengthy series of debates, the Padres gave in after MLB sided with Irabu, who was traded to the Yankees, and promptly imploded, causing George Steinbrenner to make some not-so-flattering remarks about the portly pitcher. While the posting system is admittedly a fairer balance than the previous agreements and happenings, it’s still by far an imperfect system, one which should be addressed sooner rather than later.