Officials from Major League Baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball and the MLB Players Association, as of now, have not reached agreement on new rules governing the transfer of players from Japan to North America.
Many talent evaluators with MLB teams believe Ohtani — a right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter — can star in the Majors as early as next season, on the mound and in the batter’s box. But, for the moment, there’s no mechanism for his team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, to make him available to MLB clubs. The old posting agreement between MLB and NPB expired on Tuesday. While one source indicated there’s still optimism a new deal will be reached in the coming weeks, multiple obstacles remain.
As first reported by MLB Network Insider Joel Sherman in the New York Post, negotiations have stalled — at least temporarily — on the question of how Japanese clubs should be compensated when MLB teams sign their players through the posting process. Under the previous system, MLB clubs paid Japanese teams a release fee of up to $20 million.
MLB and NPB had made progress on a new agreement, under which the NPB club would receive a percentage of the player’s guaranteed contract, one source confirmed. The Fighters, though, have withheld their support for that concept since Ohtani, 23, is likely to sign for less than $5 million — and possibly less than $1 million — because of bonus limitations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on international players under 25 years old.
The report in the Post indicated that MLB is willing to grant an exception to the Fighters that will allow them to receive the full $20 million posting fee. The MLB Players Association has not given its approval to that concept, however, in part because the Japanese team would come away with a substantially greater windfall than the player himself.
While the lack of an agreement appears ominous, it’s worth remembering what happened the last time MLB and NPB negotiated a new posting system. After weeks of slow and sometimes nonexistent progress during the fall of 2013, the parties reached agreement that Dec. 16 on a new system. That left plenty of time for Masahiro Tanaka to be posted on Christmas Eve — and sign with the Yankees less than one month later.
Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network. He has also covered baseball for FOX Sports, the Detroit Free Press, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.