ORLANDO, Fla. — Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Thursday that Shohei Ohtani will be subject to the rules of the recently expired posting system, allowing MLB teams to put up a $20-million release fee for his negotiating rights, but one not-so- small problem remains.
The Players Association has yet to give the green light for that process to commence and is holding things up. It continues to talk with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) about what sources say is a more equitable financial balance between Ohtani and his former team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Manfred also learned upon Thursday’s conclusion to the owners’ meetings that the union had imposed a Monday deadline to come to an agreement on Ohtani, with the threat of his remaining in Japan if the sides remain in a stalemate. Manfred stressed that the issues are between the Players Association and the NPB, but he was optimistic that they will get ironed out.
“I hope it’s resolved,” he said. “I think we reached an agreement with the NPB. I’m hopeful that the union will find a way to get on board, and we’ll open that player market up and let players who want to play here see if they can get signed.”
The sticking point with Ohtani centers around the fact that he’s such a unique case regarding the compensation he would command. In 2013, the last time a Japanese star of this magnitude — Masahiro Tanaka — was posted, he received a seven-year, $155-million deal from the Yankees, the largest contract signed under that system. MLB was able to hammer out a new posting system Dec. 10 that year — one that maxed out the release fee at $20 million for an unlimited number of suitors — and Tanaka signed Jan. 22.
The current wrinkle has to do with the new collective-bargaining agreement, which stipulates that international players younger than 25 — Ohtani is 23 — can be paid only what is available in a team’s international signing bonus pool, anywhere from $100,000 to $3.5 million. That’s quite a downgrade from Tanaka’s free-market status, and the Players Association is upset that the Fighters would make $20 million in this arrangement and Ohtani would receive a pittance compared to that.
Though the Players Association has a legitimate argument, it also is boxed in somewhat. For one, the union signed off on the CBA, so it already has given its consent to the international rules on the books. Secondly, holding up Ohtani’s move to the majors — he has said it’s a career dream — would seem contrary to the union’s mission statement.
If Ohtani chose to wait two years, the two-way threat described as the Japanese Babe Ruth almost certainly would be awarded a contract of approximately $200 million. MLB teams would prefer to get him at a bargain rate, so Manfred wants this wrapped up as soon as possible.
“I think that the remaining issues should be resolvable,” he said. “We’re satisfied with the way the discussions went with the NPB. We think we’ve reached a good set of understandings with them that would be effective for us. The MLBPA needs to resolve the issues they have.
“I don’t sense that this is a disconnect with the union. These are relatively small issues. I think it would be a mistake to read any larger significance into the fact that they’re trying to work out a way to get on board with an agreement that we negotiated with the Japanese. It’s a cumbersome process when you have three parties. There’s issues. I don’t think they’re earth-shattering.”
Notes & quotes: After four days of meetings involving general managers and owners, MLB still has not come up with a definitive plan for new pace-of-play rules for 2018. Still, a pitch clock is likely, along with cutting back mound visits. Manfred is trying to get the Players Association to agree rather than imposing the measures unilaterally, which the CBA ultimately gives him the power to do. “I’ve been really plain about the fact that my preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players,” Manfred said. “If we can’t get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018, one way or the other.” . . . The commissioner also pledged to have more transparency regarding the baseball, with the purpose of dispelling some of the “juiced-ball” suspicion that ramped up in October. “We monitor what’s going on with the baseball on an ongoing basis,” he said. “There’s going to be activity on that front during the offseason and we’ll have more to say on that at some point during the offseason.”