It was only a matter of time before the loophole-infested posting system came under scrutiny, and it appears as if that time is now.
With Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and the Oakland A's embroiled in a sticky contract stalemate, the whole process has led to plenty of questions and speculation, but so far no real answers.
"We refused their offer and we hope to hear back from them (the A's)," agent Don Nomura said Tuesday in Sendai, home of the Rakuten Eagles. "We'll wait until the very end (of the signing period)."
To recap, at his request, Rakuten agreed to post Iwakuma, a former 21-game winner and Sawamura Award recipient, to allow their ace a chance to pitch in the major leagues, and to make some money for the club in the process.
Since Iwakuma had yet to acquire his free-agent rights, he was posted, allowing all 30 MLB clubs to make sealed bids in an effort to gain his sole negotiating rights. The team with the highest secret bid, in this case Oakland, then has 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player, and if that fails he returns to his Japanese club for another season and the MLB team gets its posting fee back.
At the moment, the two sides appear to be so far apart on financial terms that Iwakuma is reportedly making plans to spend another season in Sendai, a little surprising considering the 30-day negotiating window won't close until Dec. 7.
A few weeks ago, in a series on the posting system in the IHT/ Asahi, Iwakuma's agent, Nomura, said he could see the day coming when, for the first time, a player would be posted, and then be unable to come to contract terms and have to return to his NPB club.
"That has never happened before and it would be a shame to do so once a player desires to go to MLB," Nomura said.
Talk about the called shot.
Among the many questions out there, at the top of the list would have to be why a low-budget club like the A's, which already has a solid pitching rotation, threw their ballcap into this ring in the first place. The posting fee, reported to be just over $19 million (1.58 billion yen), is enough alone to land a solid player, and that's the outlay required before the unproven--in MLB, at least--player gets paid a cent. Surely the A's were aware of the kind of money Iwakuma and Nomura, who has a reputation for playing hardball at the bargaining table, would be after and what they might eventually settle for.
Nomura has taken his case public, claiming that Oakland has made what amounts to a take-it-or-leave-it offer of $15.25 million over four years, which works out to roughly the same amount Iwakuma was making annually in NPB ($3.8 million per year). Nomura, meanwhile reportedly opened with a request in the $12 million range annually.
"That's comparable to what the Dodgers are paying (Hiroki) Kuroda," Nomura said.
The A's want the posting fee factored in as part of the overall package, while the Iwakuma camp maintains that money is a separate issue entirely. Nomura says they are willing to negotiate, but the A's response has reportedly been muted so far, apparently feeling the gap is far too wide to bridge.
Nomura said although he was against accepting the current offer, the decision would ultimately rest with Iwakuma, who can become a free agent after one more season here.
It was reported that all four clubs in the American League West Division--the A's, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels--were interested to varying degrees in acquiring Iwakuma. Cynics might suggest Oakland GM Billy Beane had little interest in actually signing the player in the first place. By winning the silent auction then low-balling the player, the A's can prevent the other clubs in the division from bolstering their pitching corps. While that type of move may not cost the club financially, the A's reputation in Japan would certainly take a hit if it emerged that is what transpired, and who knows how much something like that could cost in the long run.
For now, Iwakuma and the Eagles are left twisting in the wind--Iwakuma for obvious reasons and Rakuten as it tries to restock its club with free agents this offseason. The Eagles have already signed Akinori Iwamura, and if they make a play for Hideki Matsui, that extra $19 million posting fee would definitely come in handy.
Of course, negotiating ploys are commonplace in pro sports these days. Agents do--and should--ask for the world, only to settle for a continent or two in the end. (For recent evidence, look no further than the acrimonious Daisuke Matsuzaka-Boston Red Sox negotiations, which went right down to the wire.) Teams generally counter with low-ball offers, and so it goes until a common ground is reached, which means by the time you read this, it could all be settled. If not, expect the posting system to be overhauled sooner rather than later.