The bidding for Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka opened Thursday, and it could be four weeks before we learn which team is the winner. But the Tanaka saga already has one winner: Rob Manfred, the chief operating official of Major League Baseball and a likely successor to Bud Selig as commissioner.
The commissioner works for the owners, not for the fans. He has to keep the owners happy -- no easy feat when the economic resources vary so widely from the largest market of New York to the smallest market of Milwaukee -- and he has to keep the peace with the players' union.
In getting Tanaka to the majors under a revised posting system, Manfred succeeded brilliantly on both counts. The Japanese clubs are the big losers under the new system, but that is a relatively insignificant concern for an MLB commissioner -- or an aspiring one.
Under the old system, the Texas Rangers bid $51.7 million to win negotiating rights to pitcher Yu Darvish, then an additional $56 million to sign him. The bid to win negotiating rights -- payable to Darvish's Japanese club -- was not subject to baseball's luxury tax, angering some small-market teams.
Now, when a Japanese player is posted, every MLB team can negotiate with him. The one that signs him still must pay a fee to his Japanese club, but that fee is capped at $20 million. Beyond that, the system essentially is free agency -- meaning all of the expected $100-million contract for Tanaka is subject to the luxury tax.
The system is a win for large-market clubs, because all of them -- not just one -- can make a pitch to a posted Japanese player. The Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners are among the teams expected to talk with Tanaka.
The system is a win for small-market clubs, who have a chance at least to talk to the player, and a victory in seeing the luxury-tax mechanism apply to Tanaka's contract just as it would to the contracts of Jacoby Ellsbury or Robinson Cano.
And, of course, the system is a big win for the Japanese player, because negotiating with 30 clubs is far more lucrative than negotiating with one. The MLB players' union is in favor of freer markets and higher contracts.
The Japanese clubs, faced with a choice between a $20-million cap or possibly nothing at all from MLB clubs, reluctantly accepted the cap.
If Tanaka's club had declined to post Tanaka, the new system might have blown up in Manfred's face. But, at a time MLB is starting to search for a new leader, Manfred designed a system that keeps the commissioner's most important constituents happy. As a campaign plank goes, that's pretty good.
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