What Do NPB Players Make 2016

Here’s a list of the 34 best paid players in Japan’s NPB in 2016.   There aren’t many surprises to those knowledgeable about NPB’s salary structure.

Hiroki Kuroda made 600 million yen ($5.1 million), as the highest earner in NPB in 2016.  He’s got both the NPB and MLB career record to be making what is the de facto cap on NPB salaries. The facts that he had a strong season in 2015 and signed only a one-year deal for 2016 also helped him earn what is effectively NPB’s maximum salary.

Both Dennis Sarfate and Chihiro Kaneko both earned a reported 500 million yen ($4.25 million) in 2016.  It is not surprising for NPB’s top closer to be one of its most highly paid players — elite closers are highly valued by NPB teams.

I thought that Kaneko would come to MLB a couple of off-seasons ago because he was one of NPB’s top three starters two years in a row, but MLB teams were apparently concerned about his small stature, his injury history and his age. Turns out MLB teams were right, as Kaneko has had injury problems the last two seasons.  He ended up signing a four-year two billion yen ($17 million) deal with Orix Buffaloes, which is almost certainly better than any first contract he would have received from an MLB team.

Six other players made at least 400 million yen ($3.4M) in 2016, and another ten made at least 300 million yen ($2.55M).  The five players at the bottom of the top-30 list made 220 million yen ($1.87M).  NPB stars make good money, but they don’t become as fantastically rich as MLB stars.

As I’ve written many times before, the wealthiest three NPB teams could afford to pay much higher salaries, but they don’t because they don’t have to.  NPB has what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement that the richest teams won’t spend as much as they reasonably could, so that there is some semblance of competitive balance and everyone in NPB can make money or at least break even.

NPB’s players association is extremely weak.  As I understand it, NPB players don’t even have a pension plan, and the only time the players ever went on strike (a very brief two day strike in September 2004) was when the league threatened to reduce the number of teams from 12 to 11.  The NPB players association won that battle with the creation of the expansion Rakuten Golden Eagles, and had the full support of NPB’s fans, who also hated the idea of only 11 teams.  However, the NPB players association has never again used the strike power to gain more favorable terms of employment.

I’m repeating myself — this is really just a more detailed article that I wrote last June.

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