Interview: Bob Bavasi of JapanBall.com
Recently Bob Bavasi, owner of the fine website JapanBall.com, was kind enough to answer some questions for MLBTradeRumors.com. Bob tells me that he recently got back from his JapanBall.com baseball tour, where he encountered a variety of scouts, writers, and team personnel. His answers are in bold.
What kind of posting fee do you see for Matsuzaka? Ichiro cost $13MM; could Matsuzaka require $20MM?
Still one year away from Japanese free agency, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 26, of the Seibu Lions (just outside of Tokyo), is considered the hottest prospect by the MLB scouts. The Lions will allow Matsuzaka to post, a process wherein MLB teams give the Lions sealed bids, the highest bidder getting negotiating rights to the pitcher...the Lions getting a bundle of dough.
What could he go for? I've heard numbers from $17 to $28 million for the posting fee to the Lions. Then the MLB club must, of course, sign the player.
It seems like as many as ten teams could be after him. What kind of contract would you expect him to sign once an MLB team has his rights?
His agent is Scott Boras, and none of his players have been known to sign on the cheap. But certainly the club will be looking for a long contract what with the money they'll have just spent to simply acquire the rights to sign Matsuzaka. I've heard numbers as high as $70 million for the contract, if you can believe that.
So far, I've seen reports on the following teams interested in Matsuzaka: Angels, Royals, Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles, Dodgers, and Mariners. Based on Japanese media have any other MLB teams scouted him?
All the clubs have scouted him, but it really comes down to the wherewithal to place the big bet. Also, with regard to your list, I wouldn't count San Diego out.
Do you expect any other players to be posted this winter?
Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) third baseman Akinori Iwamura has been talked about as a candidate to be posted this winter as are RHP Kaz Saito of the Softbank Hawks (Fukuoka) and LHP Kei Igawa with the Hanshin Tigers (Osaka).
Which Japanese free agents could end up on Major League rosters next spring?
RHP Hiroki Kuroda of the Carp will be a free agent, not subject to posting, and you hear his name bandied about in this regard.
If you were building a team, which Japanese player would you choose with the #1 pick?
I like the pitcher we started this conversation about, but, if you are giving me a free pick, I might mention that I chatted with Wayne Graczyk, baseball columnist for The Japan Times and editor of the Japan Baseball Media Guide, who said that the consensus of the scouts he'd visited with who'd recently come through Japan said that Kosuke Fukudome, outfielder for the Chunichi Dragons was the best all-around Japanese player.
Could you assess the likelihood of Kei Igawa being posted? I have read that the team's owner does not plan on posting him.
While he's been discussed I'm not certain if he'll be posted. If you're a Japanese baseball team owner, there is generally no point is posting a player until he's very close to free agency. Igawa has signed with the Hanshin Tigers through the 2008 season, so I tend to think they'd keep him for one more year before doing the posting.
Do you have any insight as to how the Japanese perceive the posting system?
For the teams it's terrific. You can get something for your player rather
than a whole bunch of nothing when he becomes a free agent.
Do fans enjoy it when players leave to play MLB?
The posting process lends some excitement for fans who always wrestle with being disappointed in losing the player, but being happy that another Japanese can compete in MLB.
We do our JapanBall.com Baseball Experience Tour each September. The year Ichiro signed with Seattle I saw Mariners logos and Ichiro photos just as soon as I left the airplane upon landing in Tokyo. He was everywhere. On billboards, on giant TV screens on the sides of buildings, in subway car advertisements.
Japan baseball attendance started to wane as folks began watching MLB games on TV. Now things are a little more settled down.
Japanese baseball has reacted by making their ballparks much more fan-friendly and teams are starting to play more aggressive, exciting baseball. They've just imported their fourth American field manager to help in that regard. The Central League will adopt a playoff formula similar to that which is a hit in the Pacific League. And fans are beginning to respond at the turnstiles.
Thanks for your time, Bob!