It was announced today by agent Don Nomura on Twitter that the Oakland Athletics won the bidding for the opportunity to sign Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma of the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB). Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle puts the bid within the $17 million dollar range (according to her sources). The A's now have thirty days in which they have to negotiate a contract with Iwakuma and pay the posting fee or if they don't negotiate a deal, they don't have to pay the posting fee to the Golden Eagles. For those of you who don't know why the A's (or any other Major League Team for that matter) would have to bid for the services of a player in the NPB, the contractual issues with Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano in the Nineties led to the development of the "Posting System". The roots go a bit further into history and point to the year 1964. (Photo courtesy of http://japanesebaseballcards.blogspot.com)
There was a player exchange between the San Francisco Giants and the Nankai Hawks in the form of 19-year old pitcher Masanoru Murakami. The Giants were impressed with Murakami's showing while with the minor league Fresno Giants that they decided to sign him to a major league contract making Murakami the first Japanese ballplayer in the major leagues. After the 1964 season Murakami signed a one year deal with the Giants. Upon his return to Japan during the offseason, the Hawks convinced him to stay in Japan and Murakami signed a contract with the Hawks for the 1965 season. This left Murakami contractually obligated to pitch for two teams at the same time and the Giants had paid the fee of $10,000 dollars to the Hawks to retain Murakami for the 1965 season. After some back and forth bickering between the heads of both leagues, a resolution was found. Murakami would be allowed to return to the San Francisco Giants for the 1965 season and then return to play in Japan for the Nankai Hawks for the 1966 season. Murakami would finish his career in Japan.
Since there were tense moments in the dealings between the leagues due to the Murakami situation, the leagues adopted the U.S.-Japan Player Contract Agreement which was also known as the Working Agreement in 1966. The agreement called for both sides to respect each other's contracts, rules and agreements between the teams and their players. In essence this prohibited the raiding of players by both leagues. This agreement stood in place until the year of 1994 with the retirement of Hideo Nomo from the NPB and his signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers of MLB.
Robert Whiting of the Japan Times has an amazing four-part series on the Hideo Nomo's legacy both here in the U.S. and Japan. I'll leave it to you to read them since Whiting covers all the bases when it comes to Nomo and the factors that caused him to leave the NPB to play in MLB. What I will say is that in conjunction with Japanese-American agent Don Nomura, a loophole in the NPB player contract was exploited allowing for Nomo to become a free agent. Nomo retired from the Kintetsu Buffaloes following the 1994 season. If he chose to return to play in Japan, then the Buffaloes would still own his rights. This didn't mean that Nomo couldn't take his services to other baseball leagues including MLB. (Photo courtesy of http://japanesebaseballcards.blogspot.com)
Two other players represented by Don Nomura tested the Working Agreement and led to it being changed. In 1997 the Chiba Lotte Marines and the San Diego Padres worked out a trade for pitcher Hideki Irabu. Irabu refused to play for the Padres and insisted that the only team he wanted to play for was the New York Yankees. The Padres eventually traded Irabu to the Yankees (and we all know how that trade worked out). The second player was Alfonso Soriano of the Hiroshima Carp. Soriano wanted out of his contract with the Carp after the 1997 season and hired Nomura to get him released from his agreement with the team. Soriano would end up signing with the New York Yankees after MLB commissioner Bud Selig deemed him to be a free-agent leaving the Carp with no type of compensation.
In 1998 the system was changed by both MLB commissioner Bud Selig and NPB commissioner Hiromori Kawashima. Rob Smaal in his article Unraveling the mysteries of the posting system on the Asahi Shimbun english website describes the Posting system as follows:
Under the system, a player contracted to an NPB team, who wishes to move to the major leagues prior to reaching free agency, can request that his Japanese club post him. If--and that's a big "if"--his NPB club agrees, the MLB Commissioner's Office is informed and a "silent auction" is held.
Any major-league club wishing to attain the posted player's exclusive negotiating rights then submits a sealed bid through the MLB Commissioner's Office. Once the secret bids have been opened, the player's NPB team is then told the top bid amount, but not which MLB club made the highest offer.
If the NPB team agrees to the posting fee, the MLB club that made the winning bid is revealed and that club then has 30 days to work out a deal with the player, which is separate from the posting fee.
If the two sides can reach a deal, then the NPB club is paid the entire posting fee, which have so far ranged anywhere from $300,000 (25 million yen) up to the staggering $51.1 million the Boston Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions in 2006 for the negotiating rights to right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If the NPB club is not satisfied with the bid amount, or if no deal can be worked out between the player and the bid-winning MLB team, or if no MLB teams bid on the player, then his NPB club retains his rights.
Is the system fool-proof? Absolutely not. What it ensures that the NPB is allowed to retain their best talent for a number of years before players turn their sights towards MLB. It allows for the teams to recoup part of their investment in players after the players leave for the majors. If the posting system wasn't in place, then most of Japan's best players would be "cherry-picked" by MLB teams leaving the NPB a shell of what it is now. As we've seen in the examples of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui that the Japanese players can play and succeed in the majors.
Going back to Hisashi Iwakuma, Iwakuma in a 10-year career with the Kintestu Buffaloes and the Rakuten Golden Eagles is 101-62 with a 3.32 ERA in 1422 innings pitches and 46 complete games and 5 shutouts. He has struck out 1085 batters while walking 323 and allowing 1408 hits. Iwakuma's best season came in 2008 when he was 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings pitched with 5 complete games and 2 shutouts. He struck 0ut 159 batters while walking only 36 and giving up 161 hits. We'll see if the A's can hammer out a deal with Iwakuma's representatives within the next 30-days. If they can, the A's are lined up to have a very impressive starting rotation for the upcoming 2011 season.
For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Rob Smaal's article titled Unraveling the Mysteries of the Posting System from the Asahi Shimbun english webpage dated 09/30/2010
- Click Here for Rob Smaal's article titled Work in Progress from the Asahi Shimbun english webpage dated 10/02/2010
- Click Here for Hisashi Iwakuma's statistics page from the NPB english website
- Click Here for Masanori Murakami's statistics page from the BaseballCube.com website
- Click Here for Hideo Nomo's statistics page from the BaseballCube.com website
- Click Here for the Hideki Irabu statistics page from the BaseballCube.com website
- Click Here for the Alfonso Soriano statistics page from the BaseballCube.com website
- Click Here to access Robert Whiting's articles from the Japan Times website
- Click Here to access Patrick Newman's thoughts of Hisashi Iwakuma from Fangraphs.com dated 10/18/2010