Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tazawa Signing End To Pro Ball In Japan?

The imminent signing of Junichi Tazawa to a Red Sox contract will have ramifications far beyond the confines of Fenway Park. In fact, the so-called "Tazawa Rules" (allowing an amateur player to request not being drafted by Japanese pro teams) may set in motion a chain of events that lead to the demise of professional baseball in Japan. As baseball fans, should we care?

It's a tough one. On the one hand, the addition of the 22-year old right-hander (probably to the AA Portland roster in 2009) will make a deep Boston pitching landscape even deeper. On the other hand, it will be another major splash by the Red Sox into the insular machinations of the Japanese marketplace. First, we plunked down more than $50 million in "posting fees" to land Dice-K, then wangled Okajima to Boston, and now we are the first team to set a new precedent by preventing a young amateur from ever playing pro ball in his home country (the new rules allow such a player to come back after 3 years in MLB, but, realistically, this will never happen).

If Tazawa is successful, it is likely that every other top-level amateur will look to America to score their fortune, and Nippon Professional Baseball will wither and die. Despite the phony protestations of Brian Cashman (the Yankees would never violate the unspoken non-tamper agreement with NPB), the truth is the Yankees have been burned by their Japanese excursions (with the possible exception of Matsui) and are therefore gun-shy in the Far East. So, despite the impact on Japanese culture, I say the Red Sox are just playing to the realities of the international marketplace of baseball talent. The NPB will just have to get used to it.

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