Yesterday, Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League agreed to a new posting agreement. Previously, teams made blind bids to the Japanese team posting the player, and the highest bidder won exclusive rights to negotiate with the Japanese player. For example, when the Rangers signed Yu Darvish, they paid a $51.7 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters. At that point, Darvish had two options: (1) sign with the Rangers; or (2) return to Japan. He eventually signed with the Rangers for 6 years and $60 million.
Under the new system, the maximum posting fee is $20 million, but every team willing to pay the posting fee can then negotiate with the player as if he were a free agent. While the posting fee will be lower, presumably the salaries will get higher for the premier posted players. As a note, only the team that actually signs the player pays the posting fee.
This offseason, the premier Japanese player is right handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Now, no talent evaluator thinks Masahiro Tanaka has the same ceiling as Yu Darvish, who is a true ace no matter your definition of “number 1 pitcher.” Tanaka is likely more a guy who tops out as a 2, which is still immensely valuable. Despite that, most thought Tanaka’s posting fee plus salary would total more than Darvish’s even if the old system was still in effect for three reasons. First, the total Darvish money was depressed because of the debacle that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s contract became after the injuries piled up. Second, Darvish’s success will have the reverse effect on Tanaka’s deal. Third, there is just more money in baseball now than two years ago due to new television deals.
Whether the new system will reduce the total money has yet to be seen, but it is unlikely. While the posting fees will be lower, having multiple teams compete against each other to sign the player after the posting phase will increase the player’s salary. Despite Tanaka not having the Darvish ceiling, as an at least solid mid-rotation pitcher who is available via quasi-free agency with a significant history of success against the best players in the world who are not in the Major Leagues, he is still a rarity in baseball as a 25 year old who can be obtained through free agency. Most believe that, on top of the posting fee, Tanaka will obtain a contract for 5 to 6 years for around $100 million, and potentially exceeding that amount.
Once the new posting agreement and Tanaka’s likelihood of being posted hit the news wires on Monday, Buster Olney quickly Tweeted that the Cubs are expected to be heavily in on Tanaka. But what exactly does “heavily” mean in this context? Will the Cubs honestly open up the checkbook to that extent?
They very well could. First, the new posting system helps the Cubs, at least to the extent it will limit the ability of the Yankees to get involved. Posting fees do not count towards the luxury tax, but salary does. Second, Tanaka is precisely the sort of player the Cubs have said they would spend money on: someone who will still be in his prime when the Cubs are ready to compete.
I’m not saying the Cubs will get Tanaka, but we all know a lot of Cubs fans will, rightly or wrongly, judge the success of this offseason on whether or not the Cubs sign Tanaka. To some extent, the Cubs may be looking at it the same way.