Junichi Tazawa, the 22-year-old amateur free agent, is creating something of an international incident between the Japanese and American baseball leagues. Some teams from Japan are irked that Major League teams seem to be so heavily invested in landing the highly-touted right-hander.
In The Times today, Alan Schwarz and Brad Lefton covered the issue:
Many Japanese baseball officials are outraged that United States teams are courting Tazawa, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, because they insist it is long-established practice for amateurs like him to be strictly off limits to major league clubs. Even some American general managers, including the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, agree.
Major League Baseball officials maintain that the letter of their protocol agreement with their Japanese counterparts, Nippon Professional Baseball, does not forbid either league from courting amateur talent from the other’s nation. When one Japanese representative characterized the rule as a gentlemen’s agreement during a meeting in New York, he was angrily rebutted by a Major League Baseball official, according to two attendees.
The Tazawa dispute extends beyond one pitching phenom and an interpretation of honor. The Japanese major leagues have already seen established stars leave for American clubs, and amateurs following Tazawa’s path away from those leagues could further hurt the leagues’ long-term viability.
As the Tazawa dispute has brewed this offseason, NPB officials released a statement on it: “This was more than just a gentlemen’s agreement, but rather an implicit understanding that the major leagues would do no such thing. That a handful of clubs from the majors is trying to break this gentlemen’s agreement is truly regrettable.”
As Schwarz and Lefton offer up an overview of the situation — including the typical glowing scouting reports on Tazawa — they bring the issue back home to New York:
Officials of major league teams have a wide spectrum of views as to whether Tazawa should be signed…The Yankees’ Cashman was unequivocal.
“I’m old school — there has been an understanding,” said Cashman, whose team has a formal cooperative relationship with the Yomiuri Giants, a team particularly upset with the Tazawa affair. “There’s been a reason that Japanese amateurs haven’t been signed in the past, so we consider him hands off.”
So my question is this: What do you think of Cashman’s stance? The Yankees have some deep-rooted economic and baseball interests in Japan. It behooves the team’s bottom line to keep the NPB officials happy. In all likelihood, the Yanks will benefit in the long-term by respecting this gentleman’s agreement.
But what about Tazawa? Should the Yanks forego this stance to pursue young, amateur free agents who aren’t explicitly breaking a rule but are simply exploiting a free market? I’d probably say no. It’s far better to keep things amicable between the Yanks and Japan, but maybe others see things differently.
So feel free to discuss this issue. I find it a fascinating one as baseball explores an international expansion of the game.
If you don’t feel like talking about this topic, use this thread as the evening’s Open Thread. Anything goes. Just keep it civil.