It's past time for MLB to do away with transfer fees

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In case you missed it — and most everyone did — the Twins recently engaged in a modestly shady transaction, adding Juan Morillo to their 40-man roster in advance of him becoming a minor league free agent.
It wasn’t an unusual move in itself, but the Twins didn’t do it with an eye towards having Morillo compete for a job next season. No, they needed to keep the 26-year-old reliever in their organization for a little while longer so that they could lock in a transfer fee for his pending sale to a Japanese team, expected to be the Hanshin Tigers. Holding the player hostage for a little while was just part of the process.
And that’s why it’s time to end the process. We’re long past the days in which MLB teams were needed to broker deals between players and Japanese teams. The clubs in Japan already know which players they’re targeting before free agency even hits, and at last check, they weren’t serious threats to bring in a Matt Holliday or a John Lackey.
The transfer fees in themselves are largely harmless. Few players are sold for more than $500,000 or so. The Yankees’ sale of Darrell Rasner for $1 million last November was the largest fee in years.
The fees, though, did spawn a gentleman’s agreement that has no business being a part of baseball. With one very notable exception, teams have declined to interfere with Japanese transfers, even if the player appears to be of some use. There’s nothing in the rules that would have stopped the Royals from claiming Rasner off waivers last year and either using him themselves or cutting their own deal with a team in Japan. They didn’t because of the agreement in place.
The one time said agreement was violated was when the Red Sox stepped in and blocked Florida’s sale of Kevin Millar to the Chunichi Dragons prior to the 2003 season. The Marlins didn’t look to trade Millar in order to improve their team, and there’s no way they were going to release him. They simply wanted the $1.2 million they were set to receive from the Dragons.
The mess than ensued proved worth it for Boston, even though the Red Sox ended up giving the Marlins $1.5 million on top of what they paid Millar. It was a selfish move for the Red Sox, but it was also clearly in the best interests of the game, not only from a quality of play standpoint — Millar was, at that point, one of the game’s top 15 first basemen — but also in that it set a precedent; no team has since tried to sell an established, in-demand major leaguer to a Japanese team.
The way I see it, no player should be headed to Japan unless he’s a free agent or completely unwanted by all 30 clubs. The gentleman’s agreement simply doesn’t belong in baseball, and there’d by no need for it at all if transfer fees were abolished. Alternatively, MLB itself could keep the transfer fees, with the entire pool being spread evenly among all 30 teams. Either choice would benefit the players and guarantee that there are no more Millar-type fiascos in MLB’s future.

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.

Yordano Ventura killed in an auto accident

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 2:  Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals jokes with teammates as he walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on June 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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UPDATE, 12:07 p.m. EDT: The Royals have confirmed reports of Yordano Ventura’s death with an official statement. No further details pertaining to the accident have been divulged.

Terrible, terrible news: Christian Moreno of ESPN reports that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura has been killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. His death has been confirmed by police. He was only 25 years-old. There are as of yet no details about the accident.

Ventura was a four-year veteran, having debuted in 2013 but truly bursting onto the scene for the Royals in 2014. That year he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings, ascending to the national stage along with the entire Royals team with some key performances in that year’s ALDS and World Series. The following year Ventura won 13 games for the World Champion Royals and again appeared in the playoffs and World Series.

Ventura was often in the middle of controversy — he found himself in several controversies arising out of his habit of hitting and brushing back hitters — but he was an undeniably electric young talent who was poised to anchor the Royals rotation for years to come. His loss, like that of Jose Fernandez just this past September, is incalculable to both his team, his fans and to Major League Baseball as a whole.

Our thoughts go out to his family, his friends, his teammates and his fans.