One of the most coveted players on the open market this off-season isn’t exactly a free agent in the usual sense. Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the 26-year old star of the WBC and the real deal according to ex-pat Bobby Valentine, will be the subject of some intense bidding and even more intense maneuvering. As it turns out, his services will depend first on the mysterious process known as posting.
Here is how Going Deep Interactive describes the process:
Japanese players are not subject to the Rule 4 Draft, which currently includes only residents of the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico (or other U.S. territories), or non-residents attending high school or college in the United States.
But they're not really free agents, either, unlike Latin American players, who are eligible to negotiate and sign with any club so long as they are at least 16 years old.
The process to sign a Japanese player who is already playing professionally is, in a way, like the amateur draft, with one basic, significant exception. While the right to negotiate with a drafted amateur is based on a team, in reverse order of record, using a draft choice on him, the right to negotiate with a Japanese player is secured by the highest bidder.
At any point between November 1 and March 1, a Japanese team can "post" one of its players, which essentially means it puts its player up for bid to see how much a Major League club will pay the team to get it to release the player from his Japanese contract. Sometimes the team initiates the process to see what it can get for the player. Other times the player asks his team to post him. And sometimes, a Major League club may anonymously request a status check, basically putting the Japanese team on notice that it has an interest in a particular player to see whether the Japanese team would consider posting him.
Regardless of which trigger is involved, the Japanese team has full discretion as to whether to post the player. If interested, it notifies the MLB Commissioner's Office that it wishes to post the player. MLB then distributes official notice to the 30 big league clubs advising that the player in question will be available for posting starting on a certain date. The clubs are given 72 hours to submit a blind bid for the player. After the 72-hour window expires, the club that submitted the highest blind bid is awarded the right to negotiate with the player.
The club and player then have 30 days to make a deal. If the club comes to an agreement with the player, the blind bid money goes to the Japanese team as a transfer fee. If there is no agreement with the player, no money exchanges hands between the MLB club and the Japanese team (the bid money is returned), and the player cannot be reposted for another year.
The system was created in response to Hideo Nomo's 1995 "retirement" from Japanese baseball, which effectively allowed him to sign with the Dodgers without compensation to the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The system does not apply to players with at least 10 years of service in the Japanese professional leagues.
The posting bid is sometimes as significant as the dollars involved in the eventual contract: the Mariners bid $13 million before the 2001 season in order to negotiate with Ichiro Suzuki, whom they eventually signed to a three-year, $14 million deal. On the other end of the spectrum,
The posting bids on Matsuzaka are expected to be in the Ichiro range, if not higher. The Rangers have reportedly sent director of pro and international scouting A.J. Preller to
Buster Olney, of ESPN, offers the following, which should only complicate matters further (while no doubt increasing the attorneys’ fees):
The posting system is deeply flawed. For example, here's one sabotage scenario that might interest a team like
Even though as many as ten teams might post their interest in Matsuzaka, the final number of teams willing to meet his and