Monday, June 22, 2009

Keeping the devil out of Japan

With the amateur draft recently concluded, and all the speculation and anticipation surrounding the new picks, and the prices they will command, a lot of the focus of the media and blogosphere has been spent on the agents. How they are great for players, how they are the scourge of the game, and how the game is better/worse because of them. I have my personal opinion of agents, but I'll choose not to share that today.

However, something interesting that I didn't know (and see, we can all learn something new every day, even if we don't want to) is that agents are not that prevalent in Japan. Like most topics, it was something I just never thought much about. I would have assumed that they had 'invaded/become part of' the game just like in the states.

But they really haven't:

On the other hand, in NPB, player agents are still a fairly a new idea and agents are known as Dairinin (representative). One agent that comes to mind, having received national attention is Don Nomura (the son of Sachiyo Nomura, and step-son Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura). He was involved in negotiating a minor-league deal for Mac Suzuki and was a big part of Hideo Nomo crossing the Pacific.
That would make sense that an agent would be involved with any player headed to the states. It's pretty much automatic, and the days of players representing themselves at negotiations are far and few in-between.

But it still isn't that common in Japan yet:

Players were still hesitant to embrace the idea of using agents, as only 2.2 % (14/633) of the players answering the surveys stated they would definitely like to use one.
Probably the biggest deterrent to agents/the saving grace of the game is this:

The biggest difference in the role of agents between MLB and NPB is that an agent can only represent a single player. This restriction reduces the appeal to become a player agent as not many people will be able to live off of the five percent commission from one player.
That would make it much harder for agents, as they are obviously having their earning potential reduced. That would actually seem to me to be a 'restraint of trade' issue, but I'm not a lawyer or a business person, so I don't know the specifics of how that works. Of course, the fact that the Japanese leagues can limit the amount of foreign players shows they don't want to/have to/need to follow the rules most Americans are used to dealing with.

It's not happening right now, but the idea does seem to be growing:

However in recent years with agents being well-known for representing players negotiating for major league deals, the idea of agents is gaining ground with the players. A new development we’ve seen is established lawyers adding player representation to their resumes. “Lawyer Kitamura Joining the Baseball World” is
one famous recent example.
It will interesting to see what happens in 5 years. As more Japanese players go to the states, there will be more of an effort to keep them at home playing. Which will probably lead to higher salaries and bidding wars. Which are all tailor-made for agents. And who will be involved.

I can see the Japanese excluding American agents from the league, when it does become more prevalent. Better the devil that you know (insert your own Steve Boras joke here).

Link from NPB Tracker.

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