The Tazawa Penalty

» 22 October 2008 » In mlb prospects, nichibei »

By now this is old news, but this is one of those posts that I started drafting, got interrupted, and haven’t had the time to get back to until now. Better late than never.

So, to get caught up, “the Tazawa penalty” is a new rule banning Japanese players who have opted out of the NPB draft to sign internationally from joining an NPB team for up to three years after leaving their international organization. The idea is make top Japanese amateurs think twice about bypassing NPB for MLB by eliminating the assumption that they have an easy path back.

Though I haven’t found anything concrete on this, I’m guessing the rule will be in effect from Tazawa forward, so Robert Boothe shouldn’t have anything to worry about if he wants to pitch in Japan in the future.

Tazawa has commented on the situation: “Personally I only thought about going to America. I wasn’t thinking about the next person, so this is something I have to apologize for”.

It feels like this is kind of a sour grapes move by the NPB establishment and they’ll eventually get over it. There is some historic precedence to suggest that they will: the cases of Hideki Irabu, Kazuhito Tadano, Hideo Nomo and Mac Suzuki.

Irabu is perhaps the most informative example. Prior to being a bust with the Yankees, Irabu was under contract with the San Diego Padres, whom he refused to play for. At the time, the NPB establishment felt that they had been embarrassed by Irabu’s antics and said that he wouldn’t be allowed back in, but Hanshin signed him for the 2003 season. He won the fans over with a strong start.

Kazuhito Tadano was a top college pitcher who went undrafted because of his appearance in an adult film. The story was that NPB teams were worried about their images, but a couple of years and MLB appearances later, the Nippon Ham Fighters had gotten over it and selected Tadano in the second round of the NPB draft.

There was severe backlash against Hideo Nomo after he pulled his retirement stunt to make it to MLB, but it didn’t take too long for him to turn that around and he’s now widely recognized as one of most significant figures in Japanese baseball over the last 20 or so years, along wth Ichiro. I’m not aware of similar backlash against Mac Suzuki, but when he decided he was ready to move to NPB at least two teams (Yakult and Orix) were interested in drafting him, and Orix did draft and sign him.

So my gut feeling, and my hope, is that this new rule basically amounts to an idle threat. Instead of threatening Japanese nationals like this, I’m hoping to see a little more effort to make signing and playing in NPB more appealing, and at the same time, investing a more in developing young talent, particularly young international talent.

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