Dennis Sarfate May Now Be the Highest Paid Player in NPB History

The SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s NPB just reportedly signed their closer Dennis Sarfate to a three-year extension (2019-2021) for a possible 2 billion yen ($18.93 million).  If the reported amount is accurate (NPB teams don’t report salaries) and all guaranteed, this would likely be the highest annual salary (and certainly the highest annual salary for a contract of more than one season) in NPB history.  Two billion yen contracts for NPB’s best free agents who elect to remain in NPB are not exactly rare, but all previous such deals have been for four seasons.

The reported signing is interesting for several reasons.  First, it’s an awfully generous offer for a pitcher’s age 38 through 40 seasons.  It’s hard to imagine any other team anywhere giving Sarfate that much money for these seasons.  Most likely, SoftBank trying to head off competition from the Yomiuri Giants with this deal.

Second, it shows how under NPB’s distorted salary system, top closers are as highly valued as top starters and position players.  NPB has a unwritten salary cap of around 600 million yen per season, which has been pretty effectively enforced — I am aware of only three players topping this amount on single year contracts in NPB’s history previously. One of these three was closer Kazuhiro Sasaki when he returned to NPB after four very successful seasons in MLB (129 MLB saves).

Sarfate is the most successful foreign closer in NPB history, and he’s the best closer in NPB entering the 2018 season.  Most of Softbank’s Japanese stars are relatively underpaid due to NPB’s salary system and late free agency eligibility (nine full seasons to be a true free agent), so the Hawks can afford to pay what is a truly enormous amount by NPB standards to keep their super-star closer.

As a younger man in MLB, Sarfate had MLB stuff but not MLB command.  In Japan, his command has almost certainly approved, and the wider strike zone and lower level of hitting talent has probably made Sarfate far more confident and effective.  He can challenge NPB hitters more often with his big fastball than he could MLB hitters, and he can get away with more mistakes out over the plate than he could in MLB.

Is it bittersweet to be a $6 million dollar man in Japan?  There’s no way for any sane person not to be thrilled to receive a contract like this, but very few people in the U.S. know anything about Sarfate’s career or pitching abilities.  In a way, it’s good that he’s older now that he’s getting a contract like this.  With a little perspective brought on by maturity, it should be hard for Sarfate to have any regrets about being a huge star in a baseball-mad country, even if it isn’t his own.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, NPB, Seattle Mariners

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