The NPB players union is meeting on the 25th to discuss a new proposal that would change the rules of free agency. The key change being discussed is a reduction in the amount of service time needed to move to a different team in Japan. If this initiative passes, attaining domestic free agency would require eight years of service time, while international free agency would still require nine. For players drafted out of college or the industrial leagues in 2007, domestic free agency would require seven years of service time.
Free Agency rules are notoriously strict in Japan. “Nine years service time” is defined as 145 days of being active on the top team’s roster for nine seasons. Time missed for injuries is deducted from the total. Teams signing domestic free agents are also required to compensate the player’s former team with either money or a player and less money. The cash compensation is rather steep: either 1.2 times the player’s previous year’s salary. Alternatively, the new team can choose to let the player’s former team take a player from an unprotected list, and 0.8 times the free agent’s previous salary.
Players moving to MLB are obviously not subject to these restrictions, so there’s an imbalance for free agents. There was very little risk, for example, for the Red Sox in signing Hideki Okajima as they were only responsible for his salary. An NPB team signing Okajima would have had to pay his salary, some cash, and possibly a player. My gut feeling is that the new free agency rules proposal is intended to help keep Japanese stars in NPB. I agree with the effort, but perhaps a better approach would be to lessen some of the restrictions on Japanese teams signing free agents, or negotiate a compensation framework with MLB for NPB free agents.