Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima is a classic example of the flaws in the posting process, the system used to transfer professional players between Japan and North America.
Nakajima, 29, wants to plays in the majors. His Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, posted him in December, indicating they were willing for him to leave — and willing to collect a posting fee from the highest bidder.
But Nakajima will not play in the majors in 2012, and Seibu will not collect a fee. Instead, Nakajima will return to Seibu after failing to reach a deal with the New York Yankees and become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
The Yankees won Nakajima’s rights with a bid of $2 million, envisioning him in a utility role. Nakajima, who batted .297 with 16 homers, 100 RBI and 21 stolen bases for Seibu last season, wants to play every day.
His agent, Greg Genske, issued this statement Saturday:
“Nakajima has been one of the best, most highly regarded position players in Japan over the past several years, combining Gold Glove defense at shortstop with the ability to hit for power, hit for average and steal bases. At 29 years old, he is ready to begin a career in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, he is going to have to wait a year.
“Under the posting system, Nakajima was permitted to negotiate only with the New York Yankees. While the Yankees are obviously a tremendous franchise and Nakajima was honored by their interest, the Yankees have All-Stars at every infield position, and from the outset it seemed dubious that they would have a role for him commensurate with his abilities and goals.
“Out of respect for the Yankees and for the process, we engaged in discussions, but it became clear that this was not a good fit at this stage of his career. Nakajima’s decision had nothing to do with money; he just didn’t feel that he would be using his abilities to the fullest and helping his club to the maximum extent possible in the role that the Yankees envisioned for him.
“It is unfortunate that Nakajima could not discuss opportunities with major league clubs having more suitable roles available, but that time will come. Nakajima is grateful to the Seibu Lions for posting him and to the New York Yankees for their interest.”
The posting system was created in 1998 to ensure compensation for Japanese clubs that lost star players. Nakajima will be a free agent next year because players with nine or more years of service are exempt.
While waiting one more year does not appear to be a terrible outcome for Nakajima, a failure to reach agreement with a major league club had serious consequences for another Japanese player, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.
The Oakland Athletics won the rights to Iwakuma last offseason with a bid of $19.1 million. They offered him a four-year, $36 million contract, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. But the two sides did not reach a deal.
Iwakuma, 30, returned to his Japanese club, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, but missed two months with a sore shoulder last season. His value dropped considerably; he recently signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.
— Ken Rosenthal