Looking at Player Movement Rules

» 17 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb »

This offseason, I’ve come across three proposals to change the rules governing player personnel. At first glance, it didn’t seem that these ideas are thematically linked, but after giving it some thought, I think they are reflective of a league that is living less in the shadow of a dominant team, the Yomiuri Giants, and more in the shadow of Major League baseball. These ideas seem to be more aimed at retaining talent league-wide than deferring to the local top dog.

  • Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino has suggested that NPB do away with it’s first-round lottery/drawing process and change to a complete waiver process, in which teams select in reverse order of their records.

NPB has experimented a lot with it’s draft procedures over the years, but a concept that’s mostly stuck around is the first round nyusatsu chusen (bid and drawing) system. Under this format, rather than selecting in order, each team chooses the player it wants, and if multiple teams pick the same player, the teams draw cards for his rights. After the first round, the rest of the draft continues with the teams choosing in the order of their records, last to first in even-numbered rounds and first to last in odd-numbered rounds. Hoshino thinks it would be better for competitive balance to have the teams choose in reverse order of their records in all the rounds.

The more rational side of my brain agrees with Hoshino. Assuming the bad teams aren’t bad because of poor talent evaluation, the worst teams would be have a uncontested path to the best amateurs and likely be able to rebuild faster. And I’ve always assumed that the drawing method was used to allow Yomiuri to have a chance at drafting the top amateurs, and that’s always felt kind of unethical. So far I’m with Hoshino.

The more strategic part of my brain, though, kind of likes the idea of introducing an artificial inefficiency into the process. It changes the risk/reward equation. Teams will sometimes go straight to the mid-first-round talent, avoiding the drawings for the consensus top players in an effort to be assured a prospect. Occaisionally teams will go all in and gamble their picks on signability challenges, as Nippon Ham has notably done in each of the last two years.

Overall though, it probably doesn’t matter. The NPB draft is a roll of the dice, and the more successful pros come out of the later rounds (Ichiro was a 4th round pick). Still, the top consensus picks are usually the best prospects, and frequently gate attractions as well. My recommendation would be to keep the drawing, but weighting it so that the teams with the worse records have better odds of securing the contested player.

NPB instituted this rule as a deterrent for players looking to following in the footsteps of Junichi Tazawa, who skipped out on the NPB draft to sign with the Red Sox in 2008. The idea on the table is to give the drafting NPB priority on signing the player if he goes to MLB and later wants to come back to Japan. So if Shohei Ohtani had spurned Nippon Ham and followed through on his intent to play in MLB, and then later wanted to come back, Nippon Ham would have the first crack at him.

My preference, and what I think will eventually happen, is to do away with the rule completely. This rule is just an idle threat anyway; if Tazawa wanted to play in NPB and he could fill stadiums (both moot points currently), I’m sure the NPB brass would let him in.

Pretty much everyone seems to hate the Posting System. The lone exception is a majority bloc of NPB owners, who voted to keep it unchanged in 2010, when Rakuten proposed giving the top three MLB bidders negotiating rights to posted player. For all it’s flaws, the Posting System has pumped approximately $165m in revenue in to NPB over the last dozen years, though the majority has come from three postings: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Seibu), Kei Igawa (Hanshin) and Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham).

Despite the lopsided largesse of it, I think the NPB owners designed the Posting System as more of a deterrent to make it harder for top players to leave than a source of revenue. Players rightfully dislike it because of the limitations it places on them, MLB owners don’t like the expense of it, and some NPB owners feel it makes the league weaker by allowing stars to leave.

So what would be better? Well, let’s focus on the positives of the Posting System, of which I see a couple: it allows NPB teams to get some compensation for players they are going to lose as free agents anyway; it shortens NPB players’ paths to lucrative MLB careers, though at the expense of leverage; it gives MLB clubs full pre-free agency rights to the players.

I argued for an open auction after the failed Hisashi Iwakuma posting a couple years ago, but I think I’ll change my preference to a completely open system, where NPB teams can negotiate openly for transfer fees with MLB clubs. I’d also like to see MLB clubs pay some token compensation (maybe $200k) for signing NPB free agents to Major League deals.

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