What Do NPB Baseball Players Get Paid?

I recently discovered that yakyubaka.com provides the 2012 base salaries for every player in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (“NPB”).  I thought it would be interesting to give you, gentle readers, an idea of what the highest paid NPB players are paid.

At least 92 players in NPB last year had base salaries (excluding signing bonuses and incentives) of 100 million or more yen (100 million yen at present exchange rates amounts to roughly $1.21 million).  Unsurprisingly, the Hanshin Tigers (13), Softbank Hawks (12) and the Yomiuri Giants (10) had the most 100 million plus yen players, while DeNA Bay Stars (3), Hiroshima Carp (4) and the Yakult Swallows (5) had the fewest.

The list of the eleven best paid players follows.  [Note that the numbers may not be entirely accurate, because, except for Dae Ho Lee, signing bonuses have not been taken into account.]

1.  Hitoki Iwase, Chunichi Dragons: 450 million yen ($5.46 million)

2.  Michihiro Ogasawara, Yomiuri Giants: 430 million yen ($5.22)

3.  Shinnosuke Abe, Yomiuri Giants: 400 million yen ($4.85 million).

3.  Kyuji Fujikawa, Hanshin Tigers: 400 million yen ($4.85 million).

3.  Kenji Johjima, Hanshin Tigers: 400 million yen ($4.85 million).

6.  Chang-Yong Lim, Yakult Swallows: 360 million yen ($4.37 million).

7.  Toshiya Sugiuchi, Yomiuri Giants: 350 million yen ($4.24 million).*

7.  Alex Ramirez, Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars: 350 million yen ($4.24 million).

7.  Dae Ho Lee, Orix Buffaloes: 35o million yen ($4.24 million).**

10.  Kazahiro Wada, Chunichi Dragons: 330 million yen ($4 milion).

11.  Masahiro Tanaka, Rakuten Golden Eagles:  320 million yen ($3.88 million).

*  Toshiya Sugiuchi signed a four-year 2 billion yen deal with Yomiuri before the 2012 season.  Some that money is probably a signing bonus, not reflected in the numbers above, and I do not know how the total is split between the four seasons of the contract.

** Dae Ho Lee signed a two-year deal with Orix which provided for 500 million yen in salary, a 200 million yen signing bonus and 60 million yen in performance bonuses, for a potential total of 760 million yen.

The first thing that jumps out at me from this list of highest paid NPB players is that most of them are aging veteran superstars with ten or more full seasons of NPB service.  This harkens back to the days before MLB free agency when all the players played under one-year contracts and the highest paid players were veteran superstars like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.  In NPB, free agency rules are much harsher for the players than in MLB, and few players are able to command more than one-year contracts.

Also, three of the six highest paid players (Hitoki Iwase, Kyuji Fujikawa and Chang-Yong Lim) are closers.  Obviously, NPB teams value relief aces much more highly than major league teams do.  According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, none of the 45 largest contracts in MLB history or the 48 largest single season salaries has gone to a relief pitcher.

NPB has an unwritten rule that 500 million yen is the highest salary any player can receive, and for an unwritten rule, it’s pretty well enforced.  Also according to yakyubaka.com, only eight NPB players have ever received salaries of 500 million yen or more in a season: Ichiro Suzuki, Kazahiro Sasaki, Hideki Matsui, Norihiro Nakamura, Kenji Johjima, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Yu Darvish.  That’s a pretty terrific list of players.  Only Sasaki (650) and Matsui (610) have earned 600 million or more yen in a season.

[Shinnesuke Abe may be NPB’s next 500 million yen player.  Playing for the Japan Series Champion Yomiuri Giants, his .340 batting average this past season led all NPB hitters by 28 points, and his .994 OPS was 130 points better than the next best NPB qualifier.]

Because there is this de facto cap on salaries in NPB, the very best players want to play in MLB, not for the immediate financial gains, but rather on the fact that if they can establish themselves as stars in the U.S. (like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and Hiroki Kuroda), they can make far more money on their second or third MLB contract than they could ever make in Japan.  The problem for most of them is that they are already past age 30 when they cross the ocean.  [Needless to say, some of them also want to test their skills against the world’s best, and most don’t miss NPB’s more onerous training regimens.]

A final thing that surprised me is that foreign players are not as well paid in today’s NPB as I expected.  Given that NPB teams may only carry four foreign players on their active roster at any given time, which means that foreign players are generally better than average NPB players, I expected that more gaijin players would be among NPB’s highest paid players.  However, even taking into account that foreign players often receive large signing bonuses when they sign their first NPB contract which aren’t reflected in the salary figures above, their salaries do not compare favorably with best paid Japanese stars.

In fact, since foreign players rarely have long (eight or ten year) NPB careers, they generally aren’t paid as well as veteran Japanese stars who lead the pack in compensation.  Also, foreign players often don’t have a lot of leverage because they aren’t good enough to be starters in MLB and couldn’t earn NPB salaries no matter how well they play professionally in Taiwan or Korea.

After the highly paid Korean stars Chang-Yong Lim and Dae-ho Lee (Alex Ramirez is no longer considered a “foreign player” under NPB team-limit rules because he has more than ten years of NPB service), the only other foreign player with a base salary over 200 million yen in 2012 was Matt Murton, who broke Ichiro’s NPB single-season hits record in 2010 with 214.  Murton earned 234 million yen ($2.84 million) in 2012.

Find my post-2013 season update on this post here.

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2 Comments on “What Do NPB Baseball Players Get Paid?”

  1. Burly Says:

    12/25/12: Yomiuri Giants ace Tetsuya Utsumi just signed a four-year 1.6 billion yen (roughly $19 million) deal, locking him in with the Giants at least through his first two free agent years. Utsumi is an eight-year veteran with a career 95-67 record and career 2.96 ERA.

  2. Burly Says:

    Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker wrote a piece in May 2014 in which he states that foreigners Roberto Petagine and Tony Bautista both cracked 700 million yen in seasons between 2003 and 2005. This seems quite possible, given what the Yomiuri Giants probably had to pay Petagine in 2003 after signing him away from the Yakult Swallows after four fantastic seasons, and the fact that Bautista blasted 32 home runs in MLB the year before he went to play for the Daiei Hawks (now Softbank Hawks) in 2005, particularly when you factor in signing bonuses and performance bonuses.

    Many of the eight Japanese players listed by Yakubaka probably didn’t receive signing bonuses at all, because they were mostly veteran Japanese stars getting paid straight salary.


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