Hisashi Iwakuma says he's dreamed of playing in the majors since he was a little boy. But the right-hander recently put that dream on hold for a year when he declined a contract offer from the Oakland Athletics and returned to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Iwakuma wrote on his Web site on Dec. 8 that he backed off because he doubted the Athletics sincerely wanted him. The whole process forced him to question how much his dream was worth.
"All I wanted was that their stance and attitude be, 'We simply need you,'" Iwakuma said.
His agent, Don Nomura, has said Oakland's initial offer was four years for 15.5 million dollars, an annual salary in the same ballpark as the 300 million yen Iwakuma has reportedly been receiving at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.
The pitcher says the A's met Nomura just once and barely budged from their initial offer, while news reports were full of extravagant sums supposedly being demanded by Iwakuma's side.
"Was it worth sacrificing the way of life I have and that my family has for the sake of my own dream?" Iwakuma wrote. "I realized through this what was most important was playing for a team that needs me."
If the A's wanted him, they failed to communicate their desire.
"Both sides were very anxious to get something done," A's assistant general manager David Forst told MLB.com. "We just ultimately couldn't find enough common ground to do it...We were...looking forward to the possibility of having Hisashi on our club."
One way a team can show how badly it wants a player is to enthusiastically offer lots of money. The A's inability to find middle ground on money may have contributed to Iwakuma's belief that they weren't serious about him.
Of course, it's not always about money, not when we're talking about many millions of dollars. After all, how much better can one live on 6 million dollars than 5 million dollars?
The answer is not a lot. Thus, decisions are often based largely on quality of life issues: about where one wants to live and raise a family.
Today's salaries have also created a perverse environment where a million-dollar offer might be construed as disrespect.
Shortstop Edgar Renteria, coming off a 18.5 million dollars, two-year deal during which he played 196 games, was miffed when the San Francisco Giants offered their World Series MVP 1 million dollars to be a role player.
"That offer from the Giants was a lack of respect," sports network ESPN reported. "A total disrespect. To play for a million dollars, I'd rather stay with my private business and share more time with my family."
Renteria's agent has since said the quotes "weren't necessarily an accurate characterization."
One observer who went through his own personal transfer trauma in the era before free agency was Japan's first major leaguer, Masanori Murakami.
In 1964, the 20-year-old lefty was dispatched by the Nankai Hawks to pitch for Class A Fresno on an exchange program. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Murakami earned a September call-up to San Francisco, which--following the rules at that time--purchased his contract without as much as a by-your-leave to the Hawks.
The Giants considered Murakami their property and got into a tussle with Nankai over his rights. The dispute delayed his 1965 Giants debut for a month, but after going 4-1 with eight saves that season, Murakami bowed to pressure and returned to Japan.
Murakami, who had no real say in where he played, expressed disappointment with Iwakuma's choice.
"It is very regrettable," Murakami said last Thursday in Tokyo. "I badly wanted to play there but I couldn't. Even if his [Iwakuma's] salary was not that high, there should have been a way to make a contract, with incentives, perhaps. He should know that chances are not all that easy to come by.
"I still think about the month I missed [in 1965]. We finished second, two games behind the Dodgers, a team I pitched very well against.
"If I had been able to pitch in two or three games against them, I might be wearing a diamond [championship] ring now and be here bragging about it."