Roki Sasaki posting timeline, explained: When can Japan baseball star come to MLB?

By | March 21, 2023

Roki Sasaki has quickly become one of the biggest international baseball stars in the world.

The Japanese starter, set to make his second appearance of the World Baseball Classic on Monday against Mexico, lit up Nippon Professional Baseball in his second full season in the league. Across 129.1 innings, he had a sterling 2.02 ERA with 173 strikeouts and only 23 walks. Along the way, he threw a perfect game and had 17 consecutive perfect innings, setting an NPB record with 52 consecutive outs. Oh yeah, and he was only 20 years old last year.

He’s continued to look every bit as dominant as people expected on the international stage. In his lone WBC start, Sasaki went 3.2 innings, striking out eight while giving up only one unearned run on two hits, two walks and a hit batsman against the Czech Republic.

At some point, many of the biggest names in Japanese baseball will head over to the United States. It’s not always the case — Tetsuto Yamada has remained in NPB — but stars like Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki became high-profile players in Japan before crossing the Pacific to play MLB.

MORE: All you need to know about Roki Sasaki

When can Sasaki sign with an MLB team? Here’s what you need to know.

Roki Sasaki MLB posting timeline

Sasaki wants to play for an MLB team. According to the Associated Press, when he was asked about playing in MLB, he called it “my dream.”

But while it’s easy to dream on Sasaki reaching the majors, the reality is that it could be a little while. If he waits until 2027, when he will be 25, he can leave for MLB as an international free agent and would not be impacted by the posting system.

There is the possibility that he could come over earlier, however. If he requests to be posted by his Japanese team Chiba Lotte, and the team agrees to his request, an MLB team can try and negotiate a deal with the team first to acquire the rights to negotiate with him. If that happens, Sasaki can reach the majors much sooner.

But that would require him to go through the posting process, which is complicated, to say the least.

MORE: World Baseball Classic 2023 schedule

What is the Japanese posting system?

Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball have a system in place to try and prevent MLB teams from swooping in and taking professional Japanese players away without any compensation and prevent NPB from sending players to North America who don’t wish to cross the ocean.

The system was officially put in place in 1998, and the first player to post and join MLB that way was Alejandro Diaz, who came from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp to the Reds.

There are several steps to the posting system. It is set up to allow players who have not yet reached nine years in the NPB to become an international free agent and be posted for MLB teams. Sasaki, who signed with Chiba Lotte in 2019, will hit nine years and international free agency in 2027.

MORE: Revisiting Japan’s World Baseball Classic history

The first step of the system is for a player to request to be posted. This request can be either accepted or rejected by that player’s NPB team. If it is rejected, the player stays put. If it is accepted, the player is officially posted, opening up the process for the release fee and bidding.

The release fee is what an MLB team would have to pay an NPB team in order to negotiate with that player. According to MLB, it has a range of possible outcomes:

  • For MLB contracts of $25 million or less, the fee is 20 percent of the total contract.
  • For MLB contracts between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the fee is 20 percent of first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the remaining value exceeding $25 million.
  • For MLB contracts between $50,000,001 or more, the release fee is 20 percent of first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of next $25 million plus 15 percent of remaining value exceeding $50 million.
  • For minor league contracts, the release fee is 25 percent of the signing bonus. There is also a supplemental fee owed if the contract contains MLB terms and the player is added to the active roster.
  • Posted players with contracts that contain bonuses, salary escalators or options can also lead to supplemental fees of 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalator earned by the player and/or 15 percent of any option that is exercised.

MLB notes that if a Japanese player is posted and signs an MLB contract with a guaranteed value of $100 million, the NPB team would receive $16.9 million, which breaks out as the following:

  • $5 million for first $25 million
  • $4.4 million for second $25 million
  • $7.5 million for final $50 million

MLB teams would face additional challenges in bringing over Sasaki earlier than he’s eligible, unless he signs a cheap deal — as was the case with Shohei Ohtani — especially if he comes over soon. If Sasaki is neither 25 years old nor has played in NPB for at least six seasons, a deal for him would be counted toward the international bonus money restrictions. Under the new CBA, teams have at least $4.75 million to spend. Those with a Competitive Balance Round A receive $5.25 million and those with a Competitive Balance Round B pick receive $5.75 million. Bonus pool money can be traded up to a maximum of roughly $10.1 million, per MLB.

MORE: Stats, posting eligibility and more to know about Japan star Munetaka Murakami

Players will have 45 days to negotiate with MLB teams and land on a deal. If they cannot come to an agreement, that player cannot be posted until the following offseason.

The Japanese posting system has brought several star players to MLB. Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Ohtani, Yusei Kikuchi and Seiya Suzuki are all MLB standouts who arrived via this system.