It Would Never Happen Here
It was announced today that catcher Shinnosuke Abe, probably the best position player in Japan’s NPB, re-signed with the Yomiuri Giants on a two-year deal that will pay him 600 million yen (approximately $5.76 million) in 2014. This represents a raise of 30 million yen ($290,000) from 2013 and makes Abe once again the highest paid player in NPB.
What is of particular interest is that Abe reportedly declined a raise of 50 million yen, which would have made him the highest paid player in Yomiuri Giants’ history (Hideki Matsui was paid 610 million yen back in 2002), because he allegedly felt he was not yet ready for that honor. Abe has been a thirteen-season starter for the Giants, batting .290 for his career and blasting 327 home runs. Yomiuri has won three Japan Series during Abe’s tenure, but Abe is reportedly disappointed in his performance this post-season, when the Giants lost a taught seven-game Japan Series to the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Can you imagine a major league player turning down an offer to make him the highest paid player in team history? I certainly can’t. It says a lot about the differences between Japanese and American baseball and society.
I’m fairly sure that there is something more here than appears at first blush. First of all, only days earlier Abe was quoted as saying that he wants to remain a Yomiuri Giant for his entire professional career. I also strongly suspect that Abe will be paid at least 620 million yen in the second year of his two-year deal, when he will be age 36. Pushing the record salary back to the second year of the two-year deal allows both the Giants and Abe to make the point that they are disappointed they did not win the Japan Series this year and will do everything possible to win it all in 2014.
In any event, Abe becomes only the third player in NPB history to officially make 600 million yen in a season. Aside from Godzilla, relief ace Kazuhiro Sasaki made 650 million yen in each of 2004 and 2005 (it turned out to be a very poor investment by the Yokohama Bay Stars as Sasaki pitched in only 34 games over the two seasons).
In a not-very-closely-related note, Korean slugger Dae-ho (“Big Boy”) Lee reportedly reached agreement on a three-year 1.45 billion yen ($13.92 million) contract with the Softbank Hawks. The third year is a player option, so Lee could elect to renegotiate if he plays great over the first two seasons. Also, incentives bring the possible value of the contract up over 2 billion yen ($19.2 billion).
This is the largest contract ever given to a Korean player in NPB and quite likely the largest contract ever given to any foreign player in NPB. However, on an annual basis Seung-yeop Lee and Chang-yong Lim may have been paid as much or more. At any rate, it looks as if Lee made the right choice to stay in NPB rather than trying his fortunes in MLB.