On my way to post an explanation of some of the intricacies of the negotiations to allow Sasaki to play in Japan, I saw that Steve Nelson beat me to it. Go read his post, then come back, and I’ll clear up a few of his assumptions.
1. He’s right about the working agreement between MLB and the Japanese Professional Leagues. Players under contract with a team from either league are not eligible to play for any team in another league. This is why you’ll see players having their contracts sold to Japanese teams. According to the agreement between the leagues, there has to be a legal transference of ownership of the contract.
2. This situation is more complex because Sasaki wants to play in Japan next year and not just spend his free time boating. Retirement is not an option, as he would still be contractually obligated to the Mariners for the 2004 season and unable to pitch in Japan. The process for selling a players contract to a Japanese team includes placing said player on waivers and allowing each team to take a pass. In this instance, I imagine no team would claim Sasaki. We should not expect a repeat of last years Kevin Millar fiasco.
3. As Steve noted, the union will not allow unilateral termination of the contract. However, as has been suggested in several places, the Mariners are unlikely to place Sasaki on the suspended list. Under the current rules, a suspended major league player is still considered under contract, and they would have to amend the working agreement to allow him to play in Japan next year. This is possible, but unlikely.
4. The scenario getting the most support so far would be an Albert Belle-style retirement. The Mariners will keep Sasaki on the 40 man roster until spring training, then place him on the 60 day disabled list with some form of “personal issues” as the reason. An addendum will be written into the working agreement allowing disabled players for that specific reason to play in the Japanese Leagues while still under contract to Major League clubs. He will voluntarily forfeit his salary, so the Mariners will not be responsible for any of the $9.5 million they had earmarked for him (and, for those who are seeing conflicting numbers, that includes his $8 million base salary, $500,000 in incentives that he was going to reach barring injury, and $1 million buyout of his 2005 contract) this year.
Everyone I talk to says its going to get done, and the union won’t stand in Sasaki’s way of returning to Japan. Their main concern is to make the language specific enough to not allow the owners to funnel players with unwanted contracts to Japan. They want to make sure the agreement allows only for this specific exception to the rule, and that will be the complicated part.
However, any claims that the Mariners make that they cannot spend this money now is either ridiculous overconservatism or just lying. The $9.5 million is essentially like a tax refund; you know its coming, and as long as you can guarantee payment won’t be due before you receive the money, there is no reason not to allocate that money to your present budget.