Explaining Some Free Agency Rules

This offseason has been busy for the Swallows so far, and no matter what happens a few more players are likely to move to/from the Swallows. Since free agency arrived to NPB in 1993, the Swallows have signed only two free agents Ryoji Aikawa in 2008 and Atsushi Fujimoto in 2009. This off-season the Swallows have signed INF Keiji Obiki from the Fighters (made official today) and have secured a commitment to sign from LHP Yoshihisa Naruse from the Marines. The Swallows have signed as many free agents this offseason than they have in the previous 21 years.

The newest Swallows. Yoshihisa Naruse (L) and Keiji Obiki (R)

The newest Swallows. Yoshihisa Naruse (L) and Keiji Obiki (R)

Meanwhile, Ryoji Aikawa elected to exercise his free agent rights and has committed to sign with the Giants. The Swallows hadn’t lost a domestic free agent since losing Yoshihisa Ishii to the Lions in 2007. The Swallows more recently lost Ryota Igarashi to the New York Mets in 2009. But the interesting thing about domestic free agency is that the free agent’s new team may owe compensation to their former team. I’ll explain these compensation rules and their implications to this offseason’s transactions.

Free agents come in three varieties, Rank A free agents, Rank B free agents, and Rank C free agents. Rank A free agents are those whose salary was in the top three amongst Japanese players on their team last season. Rank B free agents are those whose salary was between third and tenth amongst Japanese players on their team last season. Rank C free agents are those whose salary was not amongst the top ten amongst Japanese players on their team last season. Signing Rank C free agents requires no compensation on the part of the signing team. Signing Rank A and B free agents require compensation in the form of cash, or cash and a player. The amount of cash involved is a percentage of the free agent’s previous year’s salary. For Rank A free agents, teams that take only cash are owed 80% of the free agent’s previous year’s salary. Teams that take the player and the cash are owed 50%. For Rank B free agents, the percentages are 60% for straight cash and 40% for those that take a player. The percentages are even lower when signing players exercising their free agent rights for a second time, presumably since their former team would have invested less resources into that player. The percentages for repeat free agents are 40% and 25% for Rank A free agents and 30% and 20% for Rank B free agents.

Obiki, Naruse, and Aikawa are all Rank B free agents. However, Aikawa is the only repeat free agent which means the Swallows will get a smaller percentage of his 2014 salary from the Giants compared to if had been a first time free agent. Aikawa earned 110 million yen with the Swallows last year, Naruse earned 144 million yen with the Marines last year, and Obiki earned 70 million yen with the Fighters last year. Given the numbers, teams generally elect to take less cash and take a player. So how are these players chosen?

Once a free agent officially signs with a team, the signing team must submit a list of available players to the former team within 2 weeks, the former team will have 40 days to decide whether to take player or take all cash. The list of eligible players to be chosen is anyone on the signing team’s 70 man roster excluding players from the most recent draft class, all import players, and 28 players protected by the signing team. Teams that sign multiple Rank A/B free agents in an offseason can submit different protected lists for each player. Given the relatively high number of available players, teams can usually pick up a promising youngster who hasn’t yet earned a regular playing spot, or a veteran that may have lost regular playing time. Teams also sometimes leave expensive veterans unprotected, gambling that the choosing team will not want to take on the extra salary. Last season, the Carp managed to pick up 23 year old Ryuji Ichioka from the Giants. Ichioka had an awesome season that got cut short by injury. Looking back in Swallows history, Kazuki Fukuchi was compensation from the Lions for losing Kazuhisa Ishii. Fukuchi had a great run with the Swallows winning the CL stolen base crown twice with the Birds, and is now the team’s third base coach. I’ve compiled a list of eligible Swallows’ players below, and you can see that it’s impossible to come up with a list of 28 players without exposing some valuable role player or some youngsters with potential.

Manaka has already mentioned that he’d like to take one of the Giants veteran outfielders like Yoshinobu Takahashi (likely to be protected), Kenji Yano, or Tetsuya Matsumoto as compensation for Aikawa. Of course Manaka’s public interest may be a ploy to get the Giants to protect their vets and expose a youngster the Swallows have their eyes on.

As promised you can find a list of potential Swallows’ compensation players below. I’ve rated 19 players “Likely to be protected”, a list of players I’m fairly certain the team will put on their protected list no matter what. That list includes the recently signed free agents Obiki and Naruse, so you have essentially have 10 players to play with when constructing your protected list for each team.

Beyond the player additions and losses from free agent compensation, the Swallows are also reportedly in the market for foreign free agents like Kam Mickolio and Bryan Bullington. Even if the Swallows don’t sign anyone else, free agent compensation means the Swallows’ 2015 roster is far from set. We’re reserving comment on our recent free agent signings until our 2015 roster is more settled.

Swallows Potential Compensation Players

O = Very likely to be protected.
△ = Potential protectee.
X = Unlikely to be protected.
217INFH. Tanaka
28CM. TanakaX
About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • Rob

    Thanks very much for this. I knew about the ranking of compensation players, but I didn’t know how the rankings were determined.

    I’m okay with the Naruse deal, but why exactly do we need another light-hitting middle infielder? I like Obiki, but he’s just a right-handed-hitting Morioka. They’re both 30, they both hit .250 and probably bat eighth. The difference between .250 and .190 (Nishiura and Yachi) isn’t that much, especially since you don’t expect much out of the eighth hitter anyway, so if you need a shortstop, why not groom one of the kids you have instead of getting a copy of what you already have and risking losing someone with more utility as a compensation pick? I don’t see how this helps the team at all.

    • Rob

      Or, as it turns out, we just lose a lot of cash we weren’t using anyway.