ORLANDO, Fla. - After spending months working on a new posting system, Major League Baseball announced Thursday that a delay by Japanese officials has forced it to reconsider the initial proposal, and the surprising decision could threaten pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's anticipated move to the United States.
Only hours earlier, the Japanese players union agreed to MLB's revisions, which still would have awarded negotiating rights to the highest bidder -- but with the posting fee determined by the average of the top two blind bids submitted.
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What figured to be the final hurdle to a new posting system, however, was dismissed when Rob Manfred, MLB's chief operating officer, emerged from a meeting of team owners to say that the previous proposal was no longer on the table.
"Right now, we have to have some further discussion with [Japanese officials] before they're able to accept," Manfred said. "We warned them. We told them if this sat too long, there could be shifting winds out there. Suffice to say, there are shifting winds."
Manfred said MLB's proposal was made two weeks ago, and he received an email Thursday from Japanese officials indicating "they were not in a position to give us a formal response."
In Thursday's scheduled meeting of owners and general managers, opposition was raised to the revised posting system, a person familiar with the situation said, and Manfred later spoke of the need for an amended proposal.
"I think the concern with the system is it is a blind bidding process that led to inflated numbers," he said, "and that those inflated numbers make the market unavailable to a broad cross-section of our teams."
MLB owners have been looking at mechanisms to keep posting fees in check, especially in this cash-rich climate. One idea floated Thursday by smaller-market clubs involved counting the bids toward the luxury tax -- not done under the previous system -- but there is no indication that has any chance of happening because it would violate the collective bargaining agreement.
Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for Rakuten. With the Yankees desperate to reload after missing the playoffs, and the super-rich Dodgers reportedly also coveting Tanaka, some speculated the winning bid could approach $100 million.
Now, all bets are off, as the posting system, which expired this year, could wind up dramatically different, and those changes may not be agreed upon in time to allow Tanaka to jump to the majors this winter.
Under Japanese rules, a player needs nine years of service time to become an international free agent, as opposed to only six in the U.S. Once a Japanese player accrues the time, there is no need to be posted, which deprives a Japanese team of any financial compensation for his departure.
That also means MLB teams don't have to pay a posting fee, which they much prefer. Based on what Manfred said Thursday, MLB will likely seek an amended proposal that is even more club-friendly.
"At a certain point in time, their players become available in free agency," Manfred said. "If that's the way we get Japanese professionals, I think that the 30 major-league clubs are prepared to live with that result. So I don't feel a lot of pressure in terms of the time."