Darvish-like signings rare but draw attention

The Texas Rangers’ signing of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish is one of the biggest stories in baseball. The combined $111.7 million being spent on him -- between the posting payment going to his former team in Japan and his $60 million, six-year contract -- is drawing comparisons to the commitment the Red Sox made to another Japanese player, Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Darvish signing is also renewing debate over the posting system developed between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.

While signings like Darvish’s and Matsuzaka’s make headline news, few players -- just 1 percent of all active MLB players -- have actually been acquired this way.

The agreement applies to any player in the Nippon league who is not yet a free agent for international signing, which requires 10 years of service.

The agreement was put into place in 1998, has no expiration date and works like this: A Japanese club makes a player available for posting through the Japanese commissioner’s office, which then contacts the MLB commissioner’s office. Major League clubs are then notified about the player and have four business days to submit a silent bid. Once those bids are received, the Japanese commissioner’s office is notified of the high-bid amount but not the team submitting the bid. That kicks off a four-business-day period for the bid to be accepted or rejected by the Japanese team that holds the player’s contract. If the bid is accepted, the Major League club with the winning bid has 30 days to reach an agreement with the player. If that occurs, the club pays the posting bid to the Japanese club. If no agreement is made with the player, then no posting payment is paid.

Darvish’s former team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, on Wednesday became the recipients of the largest posting bid ever. The $51.7 million posting bid was slightly more than the $51.1 million bid the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka in 2006. Impressive numbers, but the average posting bid for all 10 players who have acquired major league contracts through the posting process is $16.7 million, with a low of $300,000 for Akinori Otsuka in 2003. While Darvish’s posting fee broke records, the other Japanese player acquired through the posting system this year, Norichika Aoki, had a modest posting fee by comparison at $2.5 million.

In all, just 21 players have been posted since 1998. Of those, 10 have signed major league contracts and three have signed minor league contracts. The combined total of all posting fees paid for those signing major league contracts is $166.6 million, which includes the more than $102 million for Darvish and Matsuzaka. Two players received bids but did not sign contracts, including Hiroyuki Nakajima, who the Yankees acquired rights to this past December but failed to sign. Six players who have been posted received no bids, including Hiroki Sanada this year.

Despite there being no expiration date on the agreement with NPB, Major League Baseball officials do plan to discuss the posting system as a part of ongoing meetings of its new International Talent Committee. The committee was formed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement to explore current and proposed regulations regarding the signing of international talent. The group had its first meeting on Jan. 9 and plans to meet once or twice a month going forward. It consists of representatives from both MLB and the MLB Players Association, which will also bring in outside experts to explore the future of international signings.