Nov 16, 2009, 3:59 PM EDT
In case you missed it — and most everyone did — the Twins recently engaged in a modestly shady transaction, adding Juan Morillo to their 40-man roster in advance of him becoming a minor league free agent.
It wasn’t an unusual move in itself, but the Twins didn’t do it with an eye towards having Morillo compete for a job next season. No, they needed to keep the 26-year-old reliever in their organization for a little while longer so that they could lock in a transfer fee for his pending sale to a Japanese team, expected to be the Hanshin Tigers. Holding the player hostage for a little while was just part of the process.
And that’s why it’s time to end the process. We’re long past the days in which MLB teams were needed to broker deals between players and Japanese teams. The clubs in Japan already know which players they’re targeting before free agency even hits, and at last check, they weren’t serious threats to bring in a Matt Holliday or a John Lackey.
The transfer fees in themselves are largely harmless. Few players are sold for more than $500,000 or so. The Yankees’ sale of Darrell Rasner for $1 million last November was the largest fee in years.
The fees, though, did spawn a gentleman’s agreement that has no business being a part of baseball. With one very notable exception, teams have declined to interfere with Japanese transfers, even if the player appears to be of some use. There’s nothing in the rules that would have stopped the Royals from claiming Rasner off waivers last year and either using him themselves or cutting their own deal with a team in Japan. They didn’t because of the agreement in place.
The one time said agreement was violated was when the Red Sox stepped in and blocked Florida’s sale of Kevin Millar to the Chunichi Dragons prior to the 2003 season. The Marlins didn’t look to trade Millar in order to improve their team, and there’s no way they were going to release him. They simply wanted the $1.2 million they were set to receive from the Dragons.
The mess than ensued proved worth it for Boston, even though the Red Sox ended up giving the Marlins $1.5 million on top of what they paid Millar. It was a selfish move for the Red Sox, but it was also clearly in the best interests of the game, not only from a quality of play standpoint — Millar was, at that point, one of the game’s top 15 first basemen — but also in that it set a precedent; no team has since tried to sell an established, in-demand major leaguer to a Japanese team.
The way I see it, no player should be headed to Japan unless he’s a free agent or completely unwanted by all 30 clubs. The gentleman’s agreement simply doesn’t belong in baseball, and there’d by no need for it at all if transfer fees were abolished. Alternatively, MLB itself could keep the transfer fees, with the entire pool being spread evenly among all 30 teams. Either choice would benefit the players and guarantee that there are no more Millar-type fiascos in MLB’s future.
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