Despite the fact that Major League Baseball teams are busily spending up their allotted millions of dollars on international amateurs, don't expect the lack of cash to delay Shohei Otani's move to the majors this year.
If there is a holdup, it will be not money but MLB's inclination to scrap the posting system in order to encourage future Japanese stars to bypass Nippon Professional Baseball altogether and sign directly -- and more cheaply -- with MLB teams.
With the last posting agreement having been scrapped at MLB's request, NPB and MLB are now negotiating a replacement to the agreement that permits Japanese professionals under contract to move to the majors.
According to a source, NPB Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki told a recent NPB board of directors meeting that he asked for a maximum posting fee higher than the $20 million allowed under the old system. MLB's response was to suggest the posting system was bad for Japanese baseball.
While Kumazaki suggested this meant MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was looking out for NPB's interests, not all of the team representatives in attendance were willing to see it the same way.
"If MLB was interested in what was best for Japanese baseball, they wouldn't be here trying to sign amateur players, like they did with Otani," one executive told Kyodo News this week.
The real threat to Otani's going to the majors next year is not money, as Mike Axisa of cbssports.com wrote Wednesday, but the lack of a posting system that would make that move possible.
Axisa wrote that Otani was unlikely to go to the majors because of MLB's severe new restrictions on international amateur spending -- and because pros under the age of 25 are now defined as amateurs, the 23-year-old Otani falls under those restrictions.
The article correctly pointed out that MLB teams are now digging deep into their allotments to scoop up available talent from Latin America, meaning little will be left at the end of the year when Otani is eligible to move.
Any MLB team wishing to spend down millions of dollars on Otani will have to sit out much of this summer's Latin player market and then wait until Otani is posted -- which many in a dollars-and-cents obsessed MLB doubt.
When one speaks to people in MLB, one is struck by how much money dominates discussions. In order for Otani to achieve his maximum financial impact it would mean waiting until after the 2019 season, when he is 25.
They can't understand that a player like Otani, who wants to learn to hit and throw major league fastballs while he's young, would want to give up hundreds of millions of dollars instead of waiting two years.
"Money is not the issue for Otani," Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama has said repeatedly the past year. "His decision won't be based on money."
What MLB does get is that without a posting system, Japan's next high school superstar may think twice about turning pro in NPB. Without a posting system, most Japanese pros will be nearly 30 before they can file for free agency. That means they will have missed the opportunity Otani currently has: of adjusting to MLB pitching and hitting at a young age.
When MLB's new international signing rules were announced in December, a senior MLB executive told Kyodo News he thought the rules would discourage more Japanese amateurs from playing in NPB.
It is not a stretch to see MLB jettisoning the chance to bring Otani to the United States now by scrapping the posting system altogether -- if MLB clubs think they can throw open the tap on Japan's amateur market.