Only a week ago it seemed like Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani was going to sail through to the majors. Nippon Professional Baseball and MLB had worked on a deal to extend the expired posting system for a year, allowing Otani’s team the Nippon Ham Fighters to collect the $20 million posting fee while Otani himself will get a fraction of that.
With NBP and MLB deciding to extend the posting system, all they needed to move forward was the approval of the MLB Players Association. And Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports is reporting that the MLBPA isn’t ready to give the green light yet.
MLB had been hoping to receive approval Wednesday for its one-year extension arrangement. But the players union has the right to approve – or reject – any foreign protocol agreement. And the union decided not to accept, and instead to counter.
There’s no reason given that the MLBPA has decided to counter and negotiate, but it’s not hard to guess. The issue here is the massive disparity between what Nippon Ham Fighters will get for Otani ($20 million) and what Otani himself will get (a onetime bonus of less than $4 million).
What’s a little harder to figure out is what the MLBPA hopes to accomplish with this gambit. They have the power to derail the entire Otani transfer, so they’re coming to the table from a position of power. But it’s not clear what they hope to do with it. They could be trying to get Otani more money, since he’ll be getting so little. Or as Heyman suggests, they could even be trying to discourage Otani from coming to the U.S. now instead of in two years from now.
While Otani clearly doesn’t care about the money he’s giving up by coming to the United States now instead of in two years, there’s a bigger issue at hand. The MLBPA’s job is to protect their players, and that includes their income. Otani many not care about the money, but not all players are like him. Others might care, and rightly so, and the MLBPA is using this opportunity to try and help other international players in the future.
Without restrictions, Otani could command as much as Masahiro Tanaka did when he signed with the Yankees. But because of the new rules about international free agents in the 2016 collective bargaining agreement, he can’t until he’s 25. Before then, he’s considered an amateur, which means he needs to sign a standard minor league contract and and his bonus is limited to what teams can pay him from their international bonus pool (up to $4 million).
Granted, the MLBPA negotiated and approved the CBA, but it seems clear now that these rules were the best they could do if they wanted to avoid an international player draft, which is what the owners were pushing for. But the very purpose of these new rules (and of the international player draft) was to cut down on the big contracts being given to international players. The purpose was to save owners money by paying players less.
The MLBPA has reportedly set a deadline of Monday for this issue to be resolved. And who knows how it might be. The rules in the CBA are pretty airtight, and Commissioner Rob Manfred has said in the past that he has no interest in bending them for Otani. And it seems unlikely that the Nippon Ham Fighters will take less money in exchange for their star player. At this point, all we can do is watch and wait.
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