The 51.1 million dollar figure paid out by the Red Sox for the negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty staggering. There have been many attempts by people who are smarter and more qualified than yours truly to determine whether he's worth the cash or not. I'm undecided. If he manages to stay healthy and becomes a star AND the Red Sox can leverage that into new revenue sources on the other side of the pacific, then he might be worth that and more. If he blows out a shoulder or becomes an average pitcher, then they can end up with a lot of egg on their collective face.
I'm not here to talk about that though. I'd like to talk about a couple of side issues that aren't getting much attention. First, the other John mentioned David Beckham's 2003 transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid. I'd like to talk about the transfer system as it compares to the posting system for Japan-US transactions.
First, they're very similar processes. That's probably not an accident. When the commissioner's office and the Japanese baseball officials met to work out a process which would govern the transactions, they probably used soccer's system as a blueprint. They're both procedures where there is a (notionally) silent bid for negotiating rights to the player. After that the winning team gets to work out a contract for the player's services. If they fail, the team that is "selling" the player's rights retains the rights to the player and is free to go through the process again. Where the two differ is that in soccer the payment received doesn't have to be money but can be future revenue, an agreement to play exhibition matches against the team, or just about any kind of benefit the two teams can work out. They also differ in that the soccer club doesn't have to officially go through a structured bidding process but instead may work with one team in particular.
One more similarity is that players whose contracts have expired and are eligible to be a "free agent" can sign with another team while no money is exchanged between the two teams. In baseball, it simply called free agency. In soccer, it's cryptically called a "free transfer".
As a comparison, the largest transfer fee ever is the famous/infamous Zinedine Zidane going from Italian club Juventus to Real Madrid for a staggering 45 million British Pounds in 2001, which with today's exchange rates works out to around 85 million USD. The largest recent transfer was Ukrainian forward Andriy Shevchenko going from AC Milan to London-based Chelsea F.C. for ₤30,000,000 or approximately $56,000,000. That's a lot of cash, even for a team owned by a Russian billionaire oil tycoon with possible mob ties.
The other thing to talk about is how previous "postings" have fared given the money involved. An obvious place to start is with Ichiro! Suzuki. When you look at the ticket sales he has produced coupled with the merchandise and other revenue from Japan that has streamed into the Mariners coffers, $13.1 million seems like a bargain. Ichiro has been their signature player for 6 seasons now.
The next highest fee was for Kaz Ishii, who has to count as a bit of a disappointment with control problems hampering his career. You don't pay out an $11.26 million fee for a mediocre pitcher.
For the money, you have to look at Akinori Otsuka as a huge bargain. The Padres scouted him very well, getting him for a mere $300k. He's produced two seasons of lights-out relief in three years and was a primary figure in the trade that brought the Padres Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young.
Many of the players that have come over from Japan have come over via true free agency and thus haven't been exposed to the posting system. This includes Hideki Matsui (bargain) and Kaz Matsui (bust). This off-season has already produced three high profile postings in Matsuzaka and a pair who went to the Devil Rays in thirdbaseman, soon to be secondbaseman or centerfielder Akinori Iwamura and reliever Shinji Mori. The two future Rays combined for $5.25M in fees. We will undoubtedly watch them as well, maybe not as closely as Matsuzaka, but closely nonetheless. It's a wonder more Japanese teams haven't posted players before they were free to go of their own volition. It's a rather large payout when you figure what teams might have given for Hideki or Kaz Matsui.