As the afternoon hours tick away in Japan, Major League Baseball and its fans are eagerly awaiting word of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes. The bidding ended at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and we know the Yankees posted a bid. Some reports say the Yanks’ bid isn’t very substantial, and Jon Heyman called it a “modest bid.”
Right now, all we know is basically nothing. No one has yet leaked the winning figure or the winning team. We don’t know what the Yanks submitted. Maybe they went low in the hopes of preempting a skittish field. Maybe, after four years of scouting Darvish, they weren’t willing to bid high and then follow up that bid with an equally lucrative deal for an unproven commodity. Of course, the recent failures of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa could be fresh in their minds, but those are inexact comparisons at best.
As we wait out the results, though, I pondered the posting system earlier today. Spurred on by an article in The Times, I realized just how ludicrous a system this is. A team in Japan posts a player, and then Major League Baseball clubs submit a blind bid for the exclusive right to negotiate a deal. If the negotiations fail, that player simply returns to Japan, and the team gets its money back. There’s no incentive to give the player a fair market deal, and the team winds up spending its assets on the posting fee rather than the player.
The agents certainly don’t like the system as they suffer tremendously. “The system has already failed,” Scott Boras said to The Times, “and that type of thing is only going to increase. I lived through it with Matsuzaka. As it stands, this system doesn’t benefit anyone.”
So what might happen? In the piece, David Waldstein noted that changes may be coming to the posting system. He writes:
The posting system was introduced after the experiences of Hideo Nomo and Alfonso Soriano, who escaped their Japanese teams via loopholes. Then in 1997, the Chiba Lotte Marines, who had a working agreement with the San Diego Padres, agreed to let them sign Hideki Irabu, who refused to play for San Diego and forced a trade to the Yankees. “It wasn’t fun,” recalled Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers, who was the Padres’ general manager at the time. “I think that episode annoyed a lot of people, and that’s why we have the system we have now, as flawed as it might be.”
But it might change within a couple of years. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, a committee will be established to discuss a worldwide draft, including changes to the current system along with Nippon Professional Baseball.
Boras suggested a sliding scale whereby Japanese players can negotiate with any team and their Japanese teams would receive a percentage of the contract. For instance, if a player leaves after one year, the Japanese team would get 80 percent of the contract, 50 percent after five years and 20 percent with just one year remaining before free agency. “A lot of Japanese players aren’t successful here because they aren’t comfortable in their situation,” Boras said. “If they could choose where they want to play, their success rate would definitely increase.”
Who knows if Boras, as he often does, is just selling a load of hooey. Maybe Japanese players aren’t successful because they are siphoned off to one team and have to negotiate with little leverage. Maybe they’re not successful because they just can’t beat Major League competition. Either way, the posting system is a bit of a strange beast, more akin to the amateur draft than anything else. Veteran players aren’t given the option to pick their next team. How peculiar.
For now, though, we’ll wait it out for a little while longer. At some point soon, Yu Darvish’s potential future employer will be announced. I’m not too optimistic it will be the Yankees, but as a famed broadcaster likes to say, sometimes, you just can’t predict baseball.