NPB to abolish 'Tazawa Rule', welcome back players who sign outside Japan

NPB to abolish 'Tazawa Rule', welcome back players who sign outside Japan
Named after the right-hander who went from Corporate baseball in Japan to MLB's Boston Red Sox, the rule forced players who escaped the NPB Draft to sit for two to three years upon their return to Japan before playing in NPB.

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has announced that the league is abolishing a rule that previously sanctioned players who opted out of the NPB draft and signed with another league outside Japan. The rule forced players to sit out for two to three years after having returned to Japan before the player could sign with an NPB club.

Under the rule, high school players who had signed international contract needed to wait three years upon their return home to be re-eligible for the NPB draft, while college players had to wait two years.

NPB Secretary General Atsushi Ihara said the rule had been under review for a while and cited an improvement in player development in Japan as the main reason why it was abolished. Ihara also noted that the minimum salary for a player who is under contract with an NPB organization exceeds that of Minor League Baseball (MiLB).

The rule was known as the Tazawa Rule. It was named after Junichi Tazawa, a right handed pitcher who went in 2008 from a Corporate League in Japan to the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball (MLB) on a three-year US$ 3 million contract. Tazawa made his MLB debut in 2009. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010. He came back healthy in 2012 and helped the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series.

Tazawa signed a two-year US$ 12 million contract for the Miami Marlins in 2016 but struggled and was released in 2018. He played at the MiLB level for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

He was released by the Reds in March and went back to Japan. Because of the rule named after him, he had to come to terms with the Saitama Musashi Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge League.

"Hopefully, I can play on the NPB stage should there be a team that wants me," Tazawa, 34 years old, told the Kyodo news agency. "I'll be pitching the best I can here for now to achieve that."

Cover photo credit: The Boston Globe