ESPN is reporting that Major League Baseball has reached an agreement with Japan’s Nippon Pro Baseball league regarding player transfers. Previously, if one of the 12 NPB clubs posted a player (that is, made him available), MLB teams could submit a blind bid for the negotiating rights to that player. The highest bidder then has 30 days to negotiate a contract with that player, paying the bid to the club and the contract to the player. Now, the bidding system is still in place, but the maximum bid is capped at $20 million. If multiple teams post a max bid, then a player is allowed to negotiate with any of those teams.
This was the plan for a while, but there were a few obstacles. Earlier reports had 11 of the 12 NPB clubs had agreed to this. The lone holdout was the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who just so happened to also have this year’s prized prospect, Masahiro Tanaka. Considering previous bids had topped $50 million, you might be able to see the Eagles’ line of thinking. The reports also implied that had the $20M posting cap was put in place, the Eagles would not post Tanaka, who still has 2 years left on his NPB contract.
So why is this interesting? Well for one thing, the Eagles’ roster includes former major leaguers Takashi Saito and Andruw Jones, which is kinda cool. But what is likely more important to you is that the Rakuten Golden Eagles are owned by, surprise surprise, Raukten Inc. This multidimensional corporation specializes in online retail, owning Buy.com (now Rakuten.com), and Play.com among others. Rakuten has also invested heavily in Pintrest and Tsunku, the latter contributing Golden Eagles’ fight songs via Hello! Project. In other words, Rakuten has fingers in a lot of places important to netizens and otaku.
In all likelihood, Rakuten is upset that they’re the ones getting 40 cents on the dollar when Seibu and Nippon-Ham got full price. It probably doesn’t help things that the Eagles’ previous post attempt yielded a $19 million bid in 2010, but the Oakland A’s were unable to come to terms with Hisashi Iwakuma. The bid was retracted and Iwakuma stayed with the Eagles until 2012, when he went to the Seattle Mariners (partially owned by Nintendo, by the way) for nothing in return. I don’t know about you, but if I was shorted $45 million over 3 years, I’d be a little peeved.
However, what if there’s something more to this? Granted, $30 million would be less than 1% of Rakuten’s $4.7 billion in revenue, but it wouldn’t be the last time someone spent money they didn’t have, especially when we’re talking baseball. If the presumed posting payday had already been earmarked, that could be problematic for the defending Japan Series champs. The issues regarding a shortfall and/or drop back to mediocrity (Rakuten won 82 out of 144 games duringthe 2013 regular season; they averaged 67 the six seasons before that) could spill over into the rest of Rakuten’s footprint. For want of a nail, the castle may not be lost, but there is the potential for damage.