Per David J Corcoran's request, this rant is back up.
Every time I read someone speculating on us having Matsuzaka on our pitching staff next year, all I can think is: NOT HAPPENING. GET OVER IT ALREADY. I don't know why people are getting worked up over the idea, aside from the depressing pickings in the free agent pitching market this year, and that there seems to be this overwhelming vibe that Japan is some sort of AAAA farm system for MLB. (Yes, I'm being a prat. But hey, this is my blog and my rant. Get over it!) If Seibu announces his posting in the offseason, then it's worth getting worked up over. Maybe.
There are currently three ways a player in the Japanese leagues can come over to MLB, without subverting the system:
1) They play for 9 years in NPB and apply for free agency and can sign with any NPB or MLB team.
(Examples: Kazuhiro Sasaki, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui, So Taguchi, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, etc)
2) They are "posted" by the NPB team they play for.
If posted, MLB teams can bid for the exclusive right to negotiate with that NPB player. The team with the highest bid has a certain amount of time - 60 days, I think, to negotiate a contract with that player.
Note: The MLB team has to first pay the NPB team (not the player) for the negotiating rights, *then* pay the player's contract, so this is an extremely expensive route. The player has no choice about which MLB team they go to, in this case. Also, certain NPB teams (read: Yomiuri Giants) refuse to recognize the posting system at all.
(Examples: Ichiro, where the Mariners paid a staggering $13 million just to negotiate with him, or Kazuhisa Ishii, who the Dodgers paid $11 million to negotiate with. Worse example: Hideki Irabu, where the Padres won the rights to him, except he suddenly decided he only wanted to play for the Yankees, so he held out, returned to Japan, and whined until the Padres worked out a deal with the Yankees so he could play there.)
3) They are granted their unconditional release by their NPB team before they reach 9 years service time, and can sign with whoever they want.
Sure, players get released all the time, but it is extremely rare in the case of players who are actually young enough and good enough to make it in MLB, since the team gets absolutely nothing in return for the player. But it has happened.
(Examples: Tadahito Iguchi, who got the Hawks to release him so he'd have the choice of which MLB team to play for.)
Since there's so much talk about the Hawks' catcher Johjima and the Lions' pitcher Matsuzaka, let me just say:
First, Matsuzaka is a free agent after the 2007 season.
If Matsuzaka is posted -- wait, let's check that first word. If. That's a BIG "if". Would Seibu want to lose its best pitcher when they still have him under their control? Last year they won the Japan series, this year they're in the bottom half of the standings. Will they want to try to get as much money as possible out of him? Is there any reason for them to do it this year? Are they going to try to sell the team again in the offseason? Will Matsuzaka's status affect that?
If Matsuzaka is posted, there's no way the Mariners are getting him. The Yankees have had such woes with their pitching this year, and most likely would outbid everyone for him. If not, it'll still be a pretty steep posting bid, given his talent and the hype, and do the Mariners really want to spend that on a pitcher who could be the next Felix if healthy, but could also end up blowing his arm out due to overwork in Japan? My guess is he'll get posted after the 2006 season, the year before free agency, just like Ichiro was. He isn't getting released - the Lions are way too far in the red to let him go without getting something out of him.
Johjima will either stay with the Hawks or will come over here if he gets a decent enough offer. He signed a one-year contract with the Hawks instead of a three-year for that very reason. As he will be a free agent, it'll be honestly pretty interesting to see where he goes next. Will MLB teams want to offer him a lot? Will the Hawks offer him more? Will a 30-year-old Japanese slugging catcher really succeed here anyway? So many questions to answer in the offseason. But that's just it - the offseason. I swear I saw someone saying "We should acquire Johjima right now," which made me want to reach into the monitor and strangle them. Because, 1) we couldn't sign him until after the season and 2) we shouldn't sign him, given that we have a perfectly awesome catching prospect who will hopefully be up here in 2007.
Either way, Matsuzaka will not be on the 2006 Mariners, so get over it already. For our rotation issues, we should be going after Kevin Millwood in the free agent market, hoping Madritsch comes back to 100%, moving Meche to the bullpen, and seeing whether our AAA arms work out for another starter -- Jeff Harris, or Jesse Foppert, or maybe even Damian Moss. Why not go for a "Felix and the M's" rotation - Hernandez, Millwood, Moyer, Madritsch, Moss?
For trivia's sake, can you name the only two Japanese baseball teams who haven't sent any players to MLB? I'm counting the teams existing at the end of the 2004 season - I'm not counting the Golden Eagles for obvious reasons, and I'm counting Orix and Kintetsu separately. I'll give you a big hint -- they're the non-expansion teams that are in last place in their respective leagues right now. Highlight for answer: Hiroshima Carp of the Central League and Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League.
This isn't a complete list, but here's some of the teams and players to come here. Central League -- Giants: H Matsui. Tigers: Yabu, Shinjo. Dragons: Otsuka (though most of his career was with Kintetsu). Bay Stars: Sasaki, Ohka. Yakult: Ishii, Takatsu. Pacific League -- Hawks: Iguchi. Orix: Hasegawa, Ichiro, Taguchi. Kintetsu: Nomo, Nakamura. Lotte: Irabu. Seibu: K Matsui.
Wow! The Mariners actually won today's game. Holy crap. Also, more amusing, Felix starts here tomorrow night against the White Sox... and El Duque. Yet another Hernandez vs. Hernandez matchup. I love it!