Nippon Professional Baseball star Shohei Ohtani will be posted by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, on Friday. He’ll reach an agreement with a team within 21 days, beginning his career in Major League Baseball. There’s just one problem: the most he can make is $3.535 million and he’ll undergo the usual six years of team control like domestic players.
Nearly three years ago, Masahiro Tanaka came over from Japan and signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees. The discrepancy has everything to do with the new rules for signing international players created by the latest collective bargaining agreement. However, while Ohtani may max out at a relatively meager $3.535 million, he can earn more through endorsement deals.
Still, the new system doesn’t sit well with agent Scott Boras, who does not represent Ohtani (that would be Nez Balelo of Creative Artists Agency). Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Boras said, “The union will tell you they do not want to bar a player from coming here as long as he is aware of his rights. The player will tell you his lifelong dream is to play in MLB. Underneath it all, his Japanese team took their interest to the forefront. They won the title a year ago and now Ohtani would have cost (approximately $5 million) in Japan. Most importantly they want $20 million now and don’t want the risk of him getting hurt and losing the money.”
Boras continued, “Now the unsuspecting (2016 Pacific League MVP) no longer has the protection of his Japanese team or the MLB posting rules. He is precocious, greatness cast adrift, forced into the MLB lifeboat. And his admission is handcuffs that prevent him from getting at least what his older, lesser valued peers received—in Tanaka’s case, more than $150 million. Is this an international event or an international incident?”
Most importantly, Boras said, “If NPB players are ridiculed and taken advantage of—even with their consent—we have destroyed years of goodwill and respect the MLB once showed the NPB. This great league and its players—especially Ohtani—deserve better.”
Boras also noted that richer clubs stand to benefit more from the new rules because international players coming over will get additional money by signing endorsement deals with team sponsors, which are not regulated by the CBA and which do not count against the luxury tax.
Boras, of course, is correct in saying all of this. The new system is unnecessarily lopsided power-wise, in favor of team owners. They save money on signing international stars and essentially send the bill to sponsors, which will allow them to spend even more freely in the future. The players’ union agreed to a system that entices teams to avoid big contracts altogether. Rosenthal noted that Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, declined comment on the story.