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It's past time for MLB to do away with transfer fees

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.

  1. Bill - Nov 16, 2009 at 5:42 PM

    Do we get rid of the Japanese posting system while we’re at it? It’s sorta the same thing. Teams are paying for the right to sign somebody who is under contract. Am I wrong?

  2. Dan - Nov 16, 2009 at 7:58 PM

    I don’t think the posting system is so bad, honestly. If the player is under contract in JP, the posting system protects the NBP team *and the player* from abuse, while still allowing players to transfer to MLB.
    1) The NBP team can’t sell/trade the player to an MLB team without the player’s permission.
    2) The player can’t unilaterally get out of his contract with his JP team by jumping to MLB.
    That all said, posting is bad for MLB. It exists, from MLB’s standpoint, as a bargaining chit. So long as NBP has a weapon — and NBP has a great weapon: they can raid minor leaguers — I’d expect it to remain, and I’ll be OK with that.

  3. Joey B - Nov 17, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    If it cost the Twins money to scout, sign, and develop the player, why shouldn’t they get something back (yes, I know someone paid for the scouting and original signing)? I don’t get the concept of giving away something of value for free???
    Just for the sake of argument, suppose the Twins had an agreement with you that they would give you 75% of everything they got for Morillo. Would you just waive your portion of the fee so that some rich owner in Japan got something for nothing?

  4. Matthew Pouliot - Nov 17, 2009 at 12:59 PM

    Your argument is perfectly valid. Still, I’d say there should be no reward because Morillo, theoretically, has no value to a major league team. Why should the Twins receive a few hundred thousand dollars for him when a more useful player put on waivers would be claimed for only the waiver fee?
    Plus, for what it’s worth, I can’t remember the last time a player actually went from his original team to Japan.

  5. Joey B - Nov 17, 2009 at 4:16 PM

    “Still, I’d say there should be no reward because Morillo, theoretically, has no value to a major league team. Why should the Twins receive a few hundred thousand dollars for him when a more useful player put on waivers would be claimed for only the waiver fee?”
    How much value did Andrew Bailey or Dave Aardsma have before this season? How much value did Pena have when he was cut by Det, NYY, and RS all in the same season? Everyone has some residual value.
    But none of that really matters.
    Every Saturday in the summer, a million people in this country have a yard sale. Most of anything they don’t sell will likely be tossed. But they’ll get $10 for the lamp, or $15 for ice skates that their children have long since outgrown. I think most people would understand selling the skates for $15, even though they have no value to the owner. I’m not sure why the Twins can’t do the same.
    Or suppose you owned stock in the Twins. Wouldn’t you want them to maximize their income statement?

  6. affiliate network - Dec 23, 2009 at 11:05 AM

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