The biggest name this free agency period isn't Barry Zito, or Alfonso Soriano, or for that matter, Barry Bonds. The name that's creating the most buzz this off-season is Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
For those unfamiliar with what is called the "posting" process, Matsuzaka's Japanese club, the Seibu Lions, receives sealed bids from prospective MLB clubs with interest in him. With the bids "blind," the highest bidder wins the right to negotiate with the Lions for Matsuzaka's services. In this instance, the posting fee may be as high as $30 million. The current figure being floated is $21-$22 million. Remember, this figure simply allows a club to negotiate for Matsuzaka. With his agent being Scott Boras, there is the possibility that on top of the posting fee, Matsuzaka might fetch a five-year, $75 million deal.
Against this backdrop has been speculation that there is tampering occurring in the posting process by some of the clubs. Rumors are that three clubs may be involved in the tampering. The question remains, how is the tampering occurring?
As the US - Japanese Player Contract Agreement (PDF) reads (bolding mine):
Within four (4) business days of the posting of the availability of the Japanese Player by the U.S. Commissioner, any interested U.S. Major League Club must submit to the U.S. Commissioner a bid, composed of monetary consideration only, to be paid to the Japanese Club as consideration for the Japanese Club relinquishing its rights to the player in the event that the U.S. Major League Club reaches an agreement with the Japanese Player. No direct or indirect contact may be made between a U.S. Major League Club and the Japanese Club concerning a posted player and/or the amount of the bid to be submitted by a U.S. Major League Club. The U.S. Commissioner shall have the authority, pursuant to paragraph (13) below, to take action that he deems appropriate in the event he concludes that a contact prohibited by the preceding sentence has been made concerning a posted player.
So far, only one article has come out on this topic. Ed Price of the New Jersey Star-Ledger writes:
Sankei Sports quoted an unnamed Seibu executive making the charge, and he refused to identify the teams. "It is tampering, so I refused to meet them," the executive said.
While the bidding process is sealed, a team could offer inducements other than cash if Seibu agreed to accept only part of the bid, allowing the team to make a larger bid to secure the right to sign Matsuzaka.
MLB, which reportedly sent out a memo to teams to warn them against tampering, said it is aware of such rumors and takes what safeguards it can against circumventing the system. And major-league teams would probably be eager to turn each other in if they had inklings of improprieties, which apparently has not happened in this case.
The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs and Rangers are interested in Matsuzaka. The Mariners dropped out of the running, as reported by the AP:
Matsuzaka's potential double price tag proved too princely a sum for Seattle — even for Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi. The Nintendo company mogul and former Mariners owner sold his shares of the team two years ago but remains its chief to whom Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln reports regularly.
Seattle has three holes in its starting rotation for next season and is also seeking a power-hitting corner outfielder this winter.
"Mr. Yamauchi has decided that the Mariners will not be participating in the bid process, a decision with which our baseball department concurs," Bavasi said.
"We will continue to pursue other ways other ways to improve the team, specifically our pitching."
It will be interesting to see if there is any validity to the speculation of tampering. This news is being heard by more than one source, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out, if indeed, tampering has occurred. One rumor is that the bids have not been sealed -- that some clubs are aware of what others are bidding. If that were the case, this will turn into a much larger story.
Maury Brown is the editor of The Biz of Baseball and an author for Baseball Prospectus. He can be contacted here.