Why Don’t NPB Players Make More Money?

» 05 May 2014 » In npb »

…a later article appears. The delving begins.

The glass is half empty: only 91 NPB players earn JPY 100m ($1m) or more per year, a relative paucity compared to their Major League counterparts.

The glass is half full: 91 is more than 10% of the total number of NPB players and all 91 are probably quite happy to be earning such a comfortable income; the vast majority NPB farm leaguers earn JPY 4.4m ($44k) and up, a relative fortune compared with their MLB-affiliated minor league counterparts.

So why don’t NPB players earn more? And more importantly, why haven’t NPB’s top salaries grown? Aside from the blips of Roberto Petagine and Tony Batista cracking JPY 700m ($7m) in the mid-aughts, the top salaries have leveled off at about JPY 600m ($6m).

This subject probably requires expertise or research that exceeds what I have to offer, but I do have a few observations, ordered numerically for convenient reference, rather than in order of precedence.

  1. Most of the biggest stars move on MLB, rather than driving up their NPB salaries.
  2. Domestic free agency does increase salaries, but is so restrictive that only a small percentage of eligible players even file.
  3. Pre-free agency salaries tend to go year to year, and pay cuts for non-performance or injuries are a bit more common.
  4. The almost complete lack of agents in NPB.
  5. A cultural aversion to crossing the salary thresholds set by previous stars.
  6. Payroll is spread more equitably across the entire baseball operation.
  7. NPB teams are operated as business units of large corporations, rather than independent businesses funded by wealthy investors.

I would point to Hideki Matsui’s departure for the Yankees following the 2002 season as the starting point of NPB salary stagnation. Matsui’s salary in 2002 was JPY 610m, and while we’ve seen that line crossed a couple times (see above), the JPY 600m figure has essentially become the benchmark number for top-notch NPB players. Shinosuke Abe has this year’s top salary, at the magic JPY 600m mark. He could have had more, but he didn’t feel ready to surpass Matsui’s number. If he Abe had had an agent involved. I’m sure he would have nudged him in the direction of the higher paycheck.

Following the 2001 season, Yomiuri offered Matsui an eight-year, JPY 6bn ($60m), which would easily have . Had he taken the Kyojin-gun’s offer, that would have dragged the benchmark up to JPY 750m. Ichiro’s final NPB salary (2000) was JPY 550m. Yu Darvish’s was JPY 500m (2011). Kazuhiro Sasaki’s was JPY 500m (1999), then JPY 650m after he returned to Yokohama. It’s reasonable to think that any of these guys would have raised the bar as well, though none ever had a publicly-disclosed offer of the size of Matsui’s.

Epilogue: I suppose this doesn’t explain much. NPB teams are mostly operated as loss leaders, and the league as a whole has been less aggressive than MLB at developing new revenue streams. I could easily write a whole post exploring the balances sheets of NPB clubs, but the fact that they are less profitable than their MLB counterparts is a big piece of the puzzle here.

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  1. Patrick
    06/05/2014 at 3:06 am Permalink

    Personally I think the amount minor leaguers in USA earn is an absolute crime and i doubt it would be legal in any other westernised country

    In a way, you have a fair few has beens and overpaid players in MLB, even some big names are not worth what they are paid today, do people really believe A-Rod really deserves his pay? Sabathia I think is on a downhill slope, Lincecum has gone downhill, I was saying to a friend the other day that if they were in NPB and had to renegotiate pay year by year, they would be cut quite drastically, but hey… hats off to their agents!

  2. Patrick
    06/05/2014 at 8:12 am Permalink

    I’m with you there (see here: http://www.npbtracker.com/2013/12/hmm/#content). There is a class action lawsuit against MLB over minor league pay so it’s possible that things will change.

  3. Patrick
    07/05/2014 at 4:17 am Permalink

    I remember reading that once upon a time, Rick Lancelotti formerly of Hiroshima Carp tried to campaign to get MiLB salaries up but was pretty much dismissed

    I am always curious on why players don’t do more to raise the salaries of minor leaguers in USA

    On a semi related thing, you always hear about how NPB teams will keep a popular veteran on board even if he is way passed it and can barely contribute, yet you see exactly the same thing in MLB as well, so many superstar names who don’t perform anymore on fat contracts and still play every day, sometimes the two sides of the pacific aren’t so different

    Anyway, I find the salary range in NPB is quite similar to Aussie Rules football here

    And do you believe a Japanese player often feels a greater sense of loyalty to their club? And i guess they can be more susceptible to peer pressure in Japan too

    I think also, with lots of players, the fact that the parent organisation often has a job for you if you serve loyally albeit probably not as well paid as a player but at least you won’t be thrown onto the streets, this may have something to do with the players not forcing salaries up or am i wrong in this?

    You read about lots of athletes who go bankrupt and jobless when they retire, does that happen much with NPB players I wonder

  4. Patrick
    07/05/2014 at 12:39 pm Permalink

    Some former minor leaguers have filed a class action lawsuit against MLB over minor league compensation. Here’s Wendy Thurm’s review of the case: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mlb-under-attack-on-all-sides-for-failing-to-pay-mimimum-wage/

    Minor leaguers aren’t members of the MLBPA, and most of the MLBPA’s priorities seem to getting better conditions for Major Leaguers rather than minor leaguers and amateur draftees and signees. It’s kind of a shame because anyone who can play six years of MLB is likely set for life financially, while minor leaguers will struggle.

    Yes, I think that Japanese players are more loyal to their clubs than MLB players are, for the most part. There was a survey done that shows that most players have anxiety about what they will do when their playing career ends, and Shukan Baseball has a “second career” article that runs every week, which is pretty interesting. A former player (can’t remember who off the top of my head) set up an NPO called Athlete Second career Support (hilariously abbreviated as “ASS”), that helps players find new jobs after they retire.