Amateur Baseball Players and International "Trade"

The Japanese called it a gentlemen’s agreement. It looks more like collusion to me, and it’s good to see the competition for good amateurs from any country.

Many Japanese baseball officials are outraged that United States teams are courting Tazawa, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, because they insist it is long-established practice for amateurs like him to be strictly off limits to major league clubs. Even some American general managers, including the YankeesBrian Cashman, agree.

Major League Baseball officials maintain that the letter of their protocol agreement with their Japanese counterparts, Nippon Professional Baseball, does not forbid either league from courting amateur talent from the other’s nation. When one Japanese representative characterized the rule as a gentlemen’s agreement during a meeting in New York, he was angrily rebutted by a Major League Baseball official, according to two attendees.

The Tazawa dispute extends beyond one pitching phenom and an interpretation of honor. The Japanese major leagues have already seen established stars leave for American clubs, and amateurs following Tazawa’s path away from those leagues could further hurt the leagues’ long-term viability.

But sports talent is an increasingly free-flowing market — notably demonstrated this summer when Brandon Jennings, one of the United States’ top high school basketball players, signed to play professionally in Italy for $1.2 million rather than play at a college in the United States.

It also is an illustration of the problem with prisoner’s dilemma-styled cartelization: the incentive to compete tears away at the fabric of collusion.

Via Al Roth of Market Design

Cross-posted at Market Power