Rosenthal: MLB on guard against shenanigans in Tanaka posting process

It’s crossing my mind. And I’ll bet it’s crossing the minds of major league executives, too.

Can players and/or teams circumvent Major League Baseball’s new posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball?

Might some major league clubs offer Japanese teams enticements beyond the new maximum $20 million posting fee?

Well, the idea crossed the mind of MLB and the players union, too. The new deal contains language that prohibits any such hijinks and empowers the commissioner to void any transaction that breaks the rules.

“It is a violation of the agreement for any value other than the posting fee to flow directly or indirectly to the Japanese club,” said Rob Manfred, baseball’s chief operating officer. “The agreement is brand new and we want to make sure that people follow the agreement.”

Those people would include Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who according to the president of his Japanese club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, wants to make donations to improve the Eagles’ stadium and its facilities for players and fans.

The commissioner’s office likely would review any such arrangement, according to the Los Angeles Times. And major league teams would be subject to the same scrutiny if they attempted to cut a secret deal with a Japanese team separate from the posting agreement.

Let’s use Tanaka as an example.

Rakuten initially resisted posting him, and team president Yozo Tachibana pronounced the new system “unfair” at the news conference in which he announced that the team would allow Tanaka to depart for MLB.

A major league team, in theory, could have enticed Rakuten to post Tanaka by making an under-the-table payment of say, $20 million, to double the club’s take. Rakuten then could have told Tanaka that it would post him only if he signed with its major league “partner” — otherwise, no deal.

Such an agreement, of course, would violate the new rules and prompt a “nuclear” reaction from MLB if discovered, according to a source.

The plan also would be difficult to execute — Tanaka’s agent would need to be involved, and the major league club would need to be the high bidder, lest Tanaka arouse suspicions by taking less money.

OK, the scenario probably is far-fetched. Still, one major league executive says “back-channeling” is indeed the biggest concern under the new agreement, citing another way in which teams could coerce Japanese clubs to post players.

“A club could guarantee to pay $20 million for the next guy — or the next two guys, for that matter,” the exec said.

In other words, a major league team could promise to pay the maximum $20 million fees for one or two of a Japanese player’s lesser teammates, providing his Japanese club with greater income.

MLB obviously would look closely at such deals, guarding against circumvention. A major league team could argue that it should be permitted to acquire the players it wants, but its motives likely would be obvious.

Of all the possibilities, perhaps the most realistic is the one that already has been broached — the idea of Tanaka somehow repaying Rakuten by making a donation to the team.

MLB, of course, could view the donation as an illegal kickback. Such a plan, one source said, also would be “very inefficient” — Tanaka would be taxed on his major league income in Japan, and Rakuten would be taxed for any revenue he contributed to the club.

OK, so maybe that would not work, either.

The point is, new agreements sometimes create openings for circumvention, not to mention unintended consequences.

Baseball will need to be vigilant as the new posting system evolves. The change from an unrestricted posting fee to a $20 million maximum was dramatic. And it’s human nature for people to seek loopholes.