Yankees should (but won't) pay double for Tanaka

Adam Pretty

Don't worry, everyone! It seems that the Yankees will still sign Masahiro Tanaka, and thus their Return to World Domination may continue as scheduled! Apparently for about three seconds last week, a few baseball men fantasized about the Yankees being luxury-taxed out of the market for Tanaka. But any starry-eyed dreamers were quickly disabused of that notion. From The New York Daily News:

For a moment Thursday morning in Orlando, it appeared as though the age-old dispute between small-market and large-market clubs — including a heated argument between Yankees president Randy Levine and Pirates CEO Frank Coonelly — could stall one of the Yankees’ biggest offseason plans.

--snip--

After MLB COO Rob Manfred informed club owners and presidents that Japanese officials had not yet responded to MLB’s most recent proposal for changes in the posting system, Coonelly spoke up on behalf of small-market teams by proposing that posting fees be counted for luxury-tax purposes, which would likely bring down the numbers and allow small-market teams to enter the fray for Japan’s top players.

That, in turn, sparked Levine to counter with the argument that if Japanese posting fees were subject to the luxury tax, then the process for signing Cuban free agents should also be changed.

In the current system, the signing of Cuban free agents does not count toward teams’ spending cap on international amateur free agents the same way as amateur signings from countries such as the Dominican Republic or Venezuela do.

--snip--

After Levine and Coonelly exchanged heated words, Manfred informed the entire group that he had already discussed the issue with the players’ union, which said there was no way it would reopen the Basic Agreement, leaving the matter to be dealt with when the current CBA expires after the 2016 season.

At that point, commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and tabled the discussion.

That must have been exciting! You know, except for the last part when Commissioner Bud told the kids to stop their pointless bickering.

This whole thing has been a hot topic for a couple of weeks, mostly because of Tanaka. But it seems the ultimate resolution will essentially be the status quo. Which does leave one to wonder why it's been a hot topic at all. The only change to the current system that actually seems likely is that the posting fee would be the average of the top two bids. Which I still can't figure; who wants that, aside from the team that actually posts the highest bid? And why does this change not have to be included in the current CBA?

My only problem with all of this is that of course the posting fees should be included when considering the luxury-tax threshold. As should moneys spent on Cuban free agents. The whole point of the luxury tax is supposedly to restrain the spending of franchises like the Yankees and the Dodgers, and thus give franchises like the Brewers and the Athletics a fighting chance. But if the Dodgers' revenues are fundamentally unlimited and their ability to sign Japanese and Cuban players is unlimited, then why bother with the luxury tax at all? Are we eventually reduced to hoping that Cuba and Japan stop producing great baseball players?

Alas, you and I might have different agendas than the union. Why does the union care about posting fees? Because if posting fees count against the luxury tax, there's less money to go around for union members. We don't know yet what the players will fight the owners about in three years, but I suspect they'll go to the mat for this one. Considering that Tanaka's posting fee might reach $100 million, and these figures are only going to escalate in the coming seasons as the local TV money's reach heretofore unimaginable levels.

Baseball's had a nice little thing going for a while now. But changes are coming, sports fans. Just as they did 20 years ago, things are getting seriously out of whack. This doesn't necessarily mean we're in for another strike or lockout in a few years. But we might be, if enough players don't feel the say way about competitive balance as, oh, let's say the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Maybe the best thing we can all do for the few seasons is root real hard for the Pirates and the Athletics of the world, and real hard against the Dodgers and the Yankees. I mean, even harder than you were before.


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