While all the talk has been focused on potential free agents in MLB, 87 players in the Japanese Baseball League became eligible for free agency on Monday. The league, domestically known as Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), has much stricter free agency rules than MLB, which may be helpful if you ever find yourself representing a client within this league.
Starting in 2009, there are two classes of free agents: international and domestic. Domestic free agents can only sign with other NPB teams while international free agents are free to try their luck overseas as well as sign domestically.
In order to qualify as an international free agent, players must play nine seasons in the NPB. To qualify as a domestic free agent, players drafted before 2007 must wait eight seasons. Players drafted after 2007 are only required to wait seven seasons before being declared domestic free agents. This is a much longer period than in MLB. Can you imagine an MLB superstar having to wait eight seasons before signing with a big market club?
Also, in contrast to MLB regulations, players must be on the team’s top roster for 145 days in order for it to count as a “year” for free agency purposes. Time spent injured or in the minors does not count. Therefore, it can take much longer than eight or nine years for a player to be eligible for free agency in Japan.
Further, teams that sign a domestic free agent in Japan are required to compensate the player’s former team with either money or players. Many players decline free agency and remain with their teams. This basically means that Japanese free agency is almost non-existent compared to MLB. For example, after the 2008 season, 83 players qualified for free agency. Only 7 actually filed.
This year, roughly the same amount of players are eligible. One Japanese player has already filed: Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows. Igarashi is a 30-year-old right-handed relief pitcher. He went 3-2 with three saves and a 3.19 ERA in 56 games last season. His best season was 2004 when he had 37 saves and 86 strikeouts in 66 games. It will be interesting to see how many more actually file.