As the A's-Hisashi Iwakuma negotiating clock keeps ticking down to the Dec. 7 deadline, one baseball pundit sees the situation as a brilliant strategic move on the part of Oakland general manager Billy Beane.
"He got himself in a high-stakes card game with no money and now he controls the table," said Ira Stevens, owner/ operator of ScoutDragon.com, a subscription-only Asian baseball scouting website that is currently being used by several Major League Basball clubs.
"I'm sure (Iwakuma's) agent Don Nomura cringed a little when he heard it was the small-market A's (whose bid won the negotiating rights)."
Stevens is convinced that Beane, the subject of the 2003 Micheal Lewis book "Moneyball," bid on Iwakuma through the posting system with a few options in mind--trying to get him cheap, sending him back to his Japanese club, or trading his rights to a non-American League West rival.
"With the winning bid (reportedly $19.1 million, or 1.6 billion yen), A's GM Billy Beane is now in control," said Stevens, whose website does not include Oakland among its current list of customers. "He can step up and spend the money for Iwakuma, if they really want to sign him, or spend no money and send Iwakuma back to Rakuten for another season in Japan."
But, according to Stevens, the other possibility is the most intriguing, where the A's trade him and essentially make something from nothing. The Dec. 7 deadline for signing Iwakuma coincides with the MLB winter meetings in Florida, providing plenty of opportunities for GMs to wheel and deal.
"Beane can approach a team and say pay me $20 million for the posting fee, which is a little more than the A's paid, to cover his time," Stevens said. "Then (the other MLB club) can sign Iwakuma to a three-or four-year deal for between $6 million and $9 million per season, which is what I estimate it might take. And throw in a little cherry on top for Billy, most likely a player, probably a hitter, or someone to be named later."
Stevens calculates the value of Iwakuma is somewhere in the $38 million to $47 million range for a three-year deal, including the posting fee. Currently, the A's have offered a four-year contract reportedly worth $15.25 million, an average of $3.81 million a year and a total package value of around $35 million. So far, Nomura has said that won't get it done, and the A's don't appear to be ready to budge, hence the current impasse.
Stevens says the beauty of this plan would be that Beane can determine where Iwakuma can--and, more importantly, cannot--play. AL West rivals Seattle, Texas and the Angels would likely be scratched off his trading list.
All of this, however, would have to be contingent on Beane, Iwakuma, Nomura and the new club all agreeing in principle to terms, something that might not be that easy to attain under the current MLB-NPB working agreement.
The Rakuten Eagles, Iwakuma's current club, would no doubt be happy to have their ace back for another season if a contract can't be sorted out prior to Dec. 7. However, as Stevens points out, that would cost them $19.1 million because in all likelihood Iwakuma would jump to the majors next offseason when he reaches full free-agent status. If that happens, the Eagles will lose one of their top players and get nothing in return.
Right now, it seems one man holds the key--or in this case the cards.
"Beane can say, 'Sorry Rangers, Mariners, Angels, but you're not in this card game,'" Stevens said. "And if Beane decides to fold, what does it cost his club? It's the perfect no-moneyball-down strategy."
That remains to be seen.