Jeremy Powell wanted to play for the Orix Buffaloes, but the team just could not get the deal done, his agent said Thursday. And now that Powell has a complete, signed deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the Buffaloes are crying foul, saying they too have a contract with the pitcher.
On Wednesday, both teams produced documents signed by the 31-year-old right-hander, but Orix's does not have the necessary salary details and is conditional on Powell's passing a physical.
Craig Landis, Powell's agent, said by phone from the States that neither he nor the pitcher had any idea the document Powell faxed to the Buffaloes on Jan. 22 was an official contract.
"They sent Jeremy a two-page fax in Japanese. They said, 'With very little time left before camp starts we need to get working on your visa when you do sign,'" Landis said. "I didn't know what it was. It was in Japanese.
"We never signed a personal contract with Jeremy's salary. I have seen Japanese contracts before and they run much longer than two pages."
On Thursday, the Buffaloes filed that fax copy with the league office in an effort to beat the Hawks to the punch.
"If we don't act, we cannot move forward," said Orix baseball director Katsuhiro Nakamura, whose club had announced Powell's signing on Jan. 11. "We've done nothing wrong procedurally, but we will just have to wait and see."
Landis rejected the basis of the Buffaloes' claim, because his client has agreed to no contract terms with Orix and thus could not be prevented from negotiating with other clubs.
"What they want is a one-way deal," Landis said.
The agent said he had been in touch with lots of teams after Powell's release by the Yomiuri Giants last autumn, but that Orix was where the pitcher wanted to go.
"Orix was the favorite for us to sign with, but Orix would not proceed to sign a contract," Landis said.
"There was no deal. They didn't close the deal because they wanted to review the physical. They thought there might be something on his knee."
Powell, a seven-year Japan veteran, had knee surgery immediately before the 2007 season and returned to the Giants at midseason. His pitching was inconsistent, and he got little run support when he did well. Powell finished the year 0-2 with a 5.80 ERA and was sent down to the minors.
In 2006, Orix gave a lot of money up front to lure Dan Serafini from Lotte after he had surgery, but the lefty went 2-9 in 16 games with a 6.89 ERA over two seasons. And after agreeing to salary figures with Powell, Orix appeared to get cold feet over the pitcher's knee and wanted to change the contract terms.
"They altered the process. Now we had to wait for them. It wasn't us. When our terms were close, they didn't want to sign us," Landis said.
"They wanted to go back on the terms we'd already discussed. So we got mad and started talking to other teams."
When Landis contacted SoftBank, the Hawks, who will start the season without injured ace Kazumi Saito, confirmed with the Pacific League that Powell was yet unsigned. The result was a rapid-fire contract: signed, sealed and delivered to SoftBank. The club announced its deal on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, PL president Tadao Koike ruled that both clubs have valid contracts.
"No contract is considered complete until it includes the salary terms and conditions. In that sense, Orix's contract cannot be considered complete," PL secretary general Shigeru Murata, said. "It is a fax, has no terms and is conditional upon the passing of a physical."
Murata said the Hawks' contract was completed quickly because the team waived the need for a further physical.
"The Hawks' deal is 100 percent perfectly complete. However, under the law it doesn't matter who gets the contract done first," he said. "In terms of whose case is the strongest, the Hawks have the most complete contract, but that is not the issue.
"We are unable to take either one until a settlement is reached."
On Wednesday, the Hawks recommended simply asking Powell who he intends to play with, which Murata believes may be the decisive point.
"It likely will be a matter of where Powell wants to go," Murata said. "If he goes to SoftBank, the Buffaloes may be entitled to damages."
If it is up to Powell, Landis said the pitcher would prefer SoftBank at this juncture.
The teams want to resolve this as quickly as possible with spring camp starting today, while Powell will need to know whether he is headed to Okinawa Prefecture's Miyakojima island, where the Buffaloes train, or to Miyazaki to join the Hawks.