Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball continue to close in on a deal that would revise the current posting system and pave the way for Masahiro Tanaka, star right-hander of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, to play in North America next season.
The Kyodo News Agency reported Thursday that a "basic agreement" has been reached on an issue that had become contentious in recent weeks. MLB.com has confirmed that $20 million is the proposed limit on posting bids. However, nothing is official until the final document has been approved and signed by both sides.
"A draft is being prepared, and hopefully both MLB and NPB can sign an official decision," NPB secretary general Atsushi Ihara told the Japanese media outlet.
According to the Kyodo News Agency, Tanaka told Rakuten during contract negotiations last December that he hoped in the future to pursue a career in the Major Leagues. While Tanaka didn't clearly state that he wanted to make the move this offseason, the assumption in North America has been that he would be available for the 2014 season.
MLB's concern was that the bidding for a 25-year-old who went 24-0 during the regular season with a 1.27 earned run average would be so high that all but a few teams would be priced out of the process, which led to the discussions with NPB.
Under the old system, teams interested in a Japanese player submitted blind bids. The highest bidder earned exclusive negotiating rights. If a contract agreement couldn't be reached, the posting fee was returned and the player went back to his team in Japan. That presented competitive balance problems for MLB since only large-revenue teams could afford to participate. The Rangers, for example, paid $51.7 million just for the right talk to Yu Darvish before signing him to a six-year, $60 million deal.
It remains unclear exactly how a system with a $20 million cap would work. While it would almost certainly make the best Japanese players available to far more Major League teams, there have been different interpretations of what would happen when multiple teams submit maximum bids.
One version suggests that the player would then be free to negotiate with each of those teams and sign with whichever team he preferred, which would still seem to give an edge to the deep-pocketed franchises. Another is that the team with the lowest winning percentage would have exclusive negotiating rights. The obvious drawback, of course, is that this could theoretically provide a disincentive for losing teams to try to win down the stretch.
Presently, Japanese players must play nine years before earning the right to sign without being posted. Tanaka is two seasons short of qualifying.
Reportedly, NPB discussed MLB's proposal with its 12 teams on Tuesday and Rakuten agreed -- after some initial reluctance -- and the resolution was passed.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.