Aug 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly reacts as he observes batting practice before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Did Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly Cause Yankees To Pay More For Masahiro Tanaka?


The previous time we discussed Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly on City of Champions was after he made some confusing comments regarding the Bucs’ local television deal with Root Sports.

Coonelly’s outspoken nature may have gotten the better of him in that case, but that aspect of his personality apparently came in handy last fall. According to several media reports, including one this week from the New York Post, Coonelly’s suggestion at the November owners’ meetings led to consensus that the “posting” system for Japanese free agents should be changed.

Now, instead of one team ponying up a large amount to acquire the exclusive rights to negotiate with a given Japanese player, any MLB club willing to pay $20 million can get in on the bidding, shifting the balance of power in contract talks away from the team.

That significant alteration explains how 25-year-old Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka was able to get a seven-year, $155 million contract from the New York Yankees on Wednesday morning. Under the old posting system, Tanaka would’ve likely gotten a deal much smaller, perhaps similar to the $60 million being paid to Rangers stud Yu Darvish over a six-year span.

Instead, the Yankees had to compete with the Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Diamondbacks, all of whom were reportedly in the running to acquire the hard-throwing Tanaka. Because of that competition, unprecedented with regards to Japanese free agents, the right-hander’s price rocketed upward.

This isn’t to give Coonelly all the credit for the change, as the owners had to agree with his proposal. Also, since the Pirates are probably never going to pursue such an in-demand free agent, the new system doesn’t help Pittsburgh and its lower revenue brethren that much in that area.

However, Coonelly’s idea did promote fairer competition, as Tanaka’s salary will put the Yankees over the luxury tax threshold for 2014, feeding more cash into MLB’s revenue-sharing program. If teams like New York want to spend exorbitant amounts on Japanese free agents, most of the money spent should count against the payroll.

Under the previous posting system, it did not. For instance, the Rangers had to pay over $50 million to win the rights to negotiate for Darvish; all of that money went to Darvish’s old club in Japan and didn’t factor into Texas’ payroll number.

Coonelly may still want to stay quieter in the public eye, but it’s clear he can be quite forceful and effective when dealing with fellow MLB power brokers.




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