Matsuzaka posting system's latest gem

Matsuzaka latest product of posting system

There is much irony in the formal designation of the process by which veteran Japanese players are made available to Major League teams. They are "posted," a term whose other definitions, of course, include "to be mailed."

Stamped, sealed, delivered. Sayonara, simple. But there is nothing elementary about the manner in which Japan League clubs grudgingly bend to their stars' wishes to try their wings in the big leagues.

In fact, the mere existence of a recognized transfer protocol represents a seismic shift in traditional Japanese thinking, both toward the loyalty they culturally demanded from their players, and to American "raiders."

A few years ago, Japan feared Ichiro Suzuki would prove to be the loose thread who would unravel the whole ball of yarn. Now, Seibu proudly posts Daisuke Matsuzaka as "a national treasure."

Treasures come with a price, naturally. Seibu gets a hefty negotiating rights fee, Matsuzaka gets the benefit of agent Scott Boras' negotiating talents, and Boston possibly a prominent pitcher.

It's certainly a more equitable arrangement than in pre-posting days when, on the rare occasions Japanese talent did hit our shores, someone was sure to get burned.

Either the San Francisco Giants, because Masanori Murakami was ordered home. Or the Kintetsu Buffaloes, because Hideo Nomo found a loophole. Or any Japanese player, who couldn't have big-league dreams without loss of face.

So consider this posting system baseball's Geneva Convention. Because, contrary to current perceptions of two hemispheres united for the good of the game, the two nations have an acrimonious baseball history.

You aren't going to find much more rancor than a 17-year-old pitcher named Eiji Sawamura consecutively fanning Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx during MLB's barnstorming tour in 1935 then saying, "My problem is I hate America, and I cannot make myself like Americans."

By the mid-'60s, relations had warmed enough for the Nankei Hawks to send a group of "exchange prospects" to hone their craft in the San Francisco farm system.

But even that olive branch withered when the Giants were so smitten with one of the youngsters, Murakami, that they added him to the big-league roster late in 1964. After he went 4-1 with eight saves in 45 relief appearances in 1965, Nankei asserted its rights to Murakami in what unraveled into a messy international affair.

That affair led to a 1967 "Working Agreement" between MLB and Japan, which was basically a hands-off policy.

Nomo, with the steering of agent Don Nomura, found and exploited the loophole in that policy. Essentially, Nomo retired after the 1994 season, cutting his ties to Kintetsu, then came out of retirement to sign a $2 million contract with the Dodgers.

Following the 1997 season, the same agent used the same loophole to untether Alfonso Soriano from the Hiroshima Carp. A 21-year-old "retiring" may have stretched the limits of credibility, but there was nothing in existing rules to prevent the ploy.

But these incidents did urge the Japanese to mend loopholes and both sides to again mend fences.

Two years later, posting was in place.

It is an extremely straightforward system:

• Japan League players with fewer than 10 years of service (which triggers true free agency) who wish to explore MLB request their teams to literally post their availability.

• The Japan League team can simply refuse but can comply and post the player anytime between Nov. 1-March 1.

• Word of the player's posting is sent to the Japan League commissioner's office, which, in turn, notifies MLB, which then loops in its teams.

• MLB teams have four days following the formal posting to submit blind bids through the Commissioner's Office for negotiating rights to the player.

• At the end of the bidding period, the Commissioner's Office notifies the Japan League team of the highest bid, without revealing the bidder.

• The Japan League team then has four more days to decide on the bid. If accepted, the MLB team and player have 30 days to strike a deal; if rejected, end of story.

• If the player signs an MLB contract, his former Japan League club keeps the rights bid as compensation. If the player ends up not signing, he returns to his Japan League team, no money changes hands anywhere, end of story.

Despite the impressions created by a few high-profile players who have become involved with it, the posting system has been anything but a Grand Central Station of baseball trafficking.

Matsuzaka and third baseman Akinori Iwamura, in fact, are only the 11th and 12th players to go through the posting system since its inception.

The process first gained attention in 2000, when Ichiro attracted for Orix a negotiating bid of $13,125,000 from the Seattle Mariners, who subsequently needed 21 days to hammer out a three-year, $14 million contract with the outfielder.

Ichiro was the third player to go through the posting system, but he was the first native of Japan.

Highlighting the little-known fact that Posting derives from service-time status, not nationality, the first two players in the posting system had been Alejandro Quezada and Timo Perez.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.