What Do NPB Players Get Paid? 2015 Update
A popular post I wrote in 2012 and updated in 2013 looks at what players in Japan’s NPB get paid. The information was based on detailed salary information yakyubaka.com published annually. Since the 2013 season, however, yakyu baka has stopped publishing this data, presumably because NPB teams are keeping the information confidential.
If my presumption is correct, this is not particularly surprising, because publicly available information about what every player is making benefits the players seeking higher salaries enormously. If a player knows what every comparable player is making, it’s much harder for a skin-flint team to underpay its players. When MLB players first formed a union in the late 1960’s, one of the first things they bargained for was that teams could not longer keep confidential player contract amounts.
I suspect that NPB teams became concerned about salary escalation and started to keep quiet contract amounts to the extent they could. Nevertheless, salary information for the best players tends to get out, so I can give you some idea of what the best players were making in 2014 and 2015.
Veteran Yomiuri Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe is almost certainly the highest paid player in NPB today. He reportedly made 600 million yen in 2014 ($5.04 million at current exchange rates; more a year ago). He reportedly turned down the team’s offer of 620 million yen, which would have been the highest single season salary in team history, because he did not feel he yet deserved to receive such a contract.
In 2014, his age 35 season, Abe’s batting numbers declined sharply from the previous two seasons, so it’s not clear if he made 620 million yen in 2015. My best guess is that he probably made between 550 million and 600 million yen this past season. [Abe made 510 million yen in 2015 — see notes below.]
Kenta Maeda, who is NPB’s best veteran starting pitcher, made 300 million yen ($2.52 M) in 2015. His team, the Hiroshima Carp, are notoriously cheap, and it is all but certain that Maeda will be posted this off-season and join MLB in 2016. Other reports say that the Carp signed former MLBer Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year $3.3 million deal for 2015 (probably 400 million yen), because Kuroda wanted to return to NPB to finish out his career. Kuroda probably would have received $12M to $15M had elected to remain with the New York Yankees on another one-year deal.
Veteran Yomiuri Giants starters Toshiya Sugiuchi and Tetsuya Utsumi should have made 500 million ($4.2 M) and 400 million yen ($3.36 M) in 2015 respectively, based on the four year deals they each signed a few years ago. Hiroyuki Nakajima signed a three-year 1.2 billion yen deal ($10.08 M) with the Orix Buffaloes before the 2015 season.
Korean stars Seung-hwan Oh and Dae-ho Lee signed record setting deals with two of NPB’s three rich teams before the 2014 season. The Hanshin Tigers signed Oh to a two-year 900 million yen ($7.56 million) deal while the Softbank Hawks signed Dae-ho Lee to a three-year 1.45 billion yen ($12.18 million) deal. South Korean stars have considerably more leverage than American players playing in NPB, because the very best KBO free agents can now command four-year $8 million contracts from KBO teams. Most players from North America and the Caribbean have already washed out of MLB, and their next best option is a minor league contract with an MLB team or a one-year $1 million contract from a KBO team.
Among the best paid American veterans in NPB are Matt Murton, whom the Hanshin Tigers paid $3.5 million in 2014, and Randy Messenger, who signed a three year deal with the Hanshin Tigers, for somewhere between $10M and $15M. My guess is that Messenger’s contract guarantees him at least $10 million, but could be worth as much as $15 million, if he meets all incentives.
It’s also hard to figure out exactly what NPB players are paid, because NPB contracts tend to include a much higher percentage of the contract as performance incentives than MLB contracts do. The only really significant performance incentives in MLB contracts are option clauses, where an option for a future season vests if the player plays a certain amount of games, innings pitched or plate appearances over the immediately preceding seasons.
By my count, at least 92 players in 2012 and 88 players in 2013 made a least 100 million yen in salary. I doubt that the number of 100 million yen players in 2014 or 2015 changed much from the previous two seasons, although the information to be certain is no longer available.