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Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010

NPB NOTEBOOK

Valentine says NPB needs major reform


Staff writer

The posting system is far from perfect, but is there a better solution?

Currently, Japanese players, and due to a few contract quirks some foreign players such as Chunichi's Chen Wei-yin, usually have two methods of taking their game to the MLB.

They can either play out Japanese baseball's nine-year service time requirement or appeal to their team in hopes of being posted.

The system itself is an organized crapshoot, which is enough to make at least some MLB teams shy away, especially when there are players in the U.S. and Latin America who can be acquired much cheaper.

For MLB scouts, there is no way to know if the player they're bidding on will turn out more like Ichiro Suzuki, who commanded a bid of $13,125,000 from the Seattle Mariners in 2000, which was a bargain in hindsight, or Kei Igawa, who after drawing a $26,000,194 bid from the New York Yankees in 2006, has a career 2-4 record, 6.66 ERA and has appeared in just 16 big league games.

Then there are the drawbacks for the players, which are being put on display in Oakland, where the Athletics and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and his agent, Don Nomura, have thus far failed to agree to a contract.

Given that a player who fails to sign has to return to Japan and can't complete a MLB move until a year later, there are accusations the small-market A's took advantage of the system by bidding on Iwakuma with no intention of signing him. A move, which the team has denied, that would prevent other AL West teams, who were reportedly interested, from signing the the star pitcher.

Whatever the reason for the impasse, Iwakuma is stuck in the middle, likely having to put his MLB dreams on hold as accusations are traded between his agent and the A's.

If he fails to sign, the A's won't have to pay the posting fee and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles get their ace back. A contingency plan where everyone's a winner, except the player of course.

While the affair has exposed the messy side of the posting process, until something better comes along the system, and its imperfections, are probably here to stay.

"I don't know if there's a better way," former MLB and NPB manager Bobby Valentine said last week in a telephone interview. "I always felt the best thing for Japanese baseball would be to improve the infrastructure and have the teams share revenue to make the league as strong as it can be so players wouldn't want to leave.

"Once you get the situation that you see now with young guys having the desire to leave, I don't see any reason that the team shouldn't make some money. They're the ones who invested in the product and developed it. If they don't feel like they get whatever they consider the full life span out of the player and the players wants to leave early, I see no reason for them not to get some money."

U.S. teams have thus far played by the agreed upon rules of the system and Iwakuma-type standoffs are the not the norm.

"I think the MLB teams for the most part are understanding the system," Valentine said. "You take a guy like (Chiba Lotte Marines closer) Hiroyuki Kobayashi. There are 30 teams, and I bet you there are 50 guys who aren't the same pitcher that he is. A lot of them are making $3 million, $4 million a year. So I think the teams understand if they're going to give somebody $8 million for two years, that they can give the (NPB) team $2 million and the player $6 million or something like that."

Among today's top players, Iwakuma and All-Star shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka were posted this winter. Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima's posting request was denied and Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa has been denied in the past. Not to mention the constant speculation surrounding the NPB's top player, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish.

Meaning instead of pointing out the flaws in the posting system, as many in Japan have done in light of Iwakuma's situation, Japanese baseball may be better served by improving its own infrastructure in order to make staying in Japan a more attractive option.

"They can do what I said every year that I was here," Valentine said. "Make the system here better. Improve the ballparks, get away from the ridiculous system that some teams employ as far as the way they treat the players. Make the players feel like this is the big leagues. Like this is the best place to be."



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