Asian System Killing Player’s ValueThe Baltimore Orioles’ received the disappointing news that left handed Japanese import Tsuyoshi Wada has a tear in the ligament in his pitching elbow that will require Tommy John surgery. In the first year of a two year $8.15 million dollar deal the Orioles are left to hope the 31 year old will be ready to contribute sometime in 2013. This is not good news for soon to be Japanese free agents hoping to make the jump to MLB.Wada is a former teammate and a great guy. I was happy for him to get the opportunity to live his dream of playing in the US. I mentioned in a November 2011 blog post that buyers should beware, Wada had some injury history. Because of the aggressive Japanese style of training the wear and tear on his 31 year old arm is probably closer to that of a 35 year old. The Seattle Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma has also seen a decline at age 30, not only in physical ability (fastball off its peak of 95 mph) but health as well. Going into 2011 Iwakuma, a right-hander, was entered into the Japanese posting system by the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The A’s won the posting with a bid of $19.1 million but Iwakuma never made it stateside, he and the A’s couldn’t work out a deal and he headed back to Japan for the 2011 season.Iwakuma had shoulder issues that season and was limited to just 17 starts and 119 innings. After 2011 he was a free agent, no posting was necessary but his value had plummeted. Iwakuma settled for a $1.5 million dollar deal with Seattle, a far cry from the over $30 million total package the A’s were willing to spend just a year earlier. When I first saw him 5 years ago I really liked Iwakuma and thought he could be an effective 3-4 starter in MLB. But the system wore on him and currently he is relegated to a long relief role with the Mariners. These two pitchers’ stories, along with other numerous imports who have struggled, are going to hurt the value of Asian pitchers going forward. MLB teams are getting smarter and won’t continue to hand out guaranteed dollars to Asian imports if the trend of injury and ineffectiveness continues and the reasons are twofold. I played in Asia from 2007-2010, 2 seasons in Japan and 2 seasons in Korea. If you followed my blog during those days you’re familiar with my stories about how different the Japanese style of training is compared to that of MLB.The biggest issue is physical. Asian pitchers work and work, and then work some more. I was floored by what I saw when I first got over there. It seemed like pitchers were always throwing and spring training was a marathon.One of the springs I spent with Wada I witnessed him throw a 247 pitch bullpen. Near the end I joked that he looked like a heavy weight fighter who was in the 12th round. He was hanging in there, but was on his last leg, the first round sharp jabs had turned soft and I didn’t understand the meaning behind what he was doing. Throwing that many pitches in a bullpen session was worthless. One of the ways you can make an impression on your coaches in Asia is by the amount of work you do. The quality and purpose are secondary compared to the time you put in. I’ve told the story before of another pitcher I saw my first year in Japan who threw a 165 pitch bullpen. That was my first experience of what was so common over there. You can imagine my amazement when the next day that same pitcher threw 10 minutes of live batting practice. When I asked him about it he told me had “Japanese Power.” I told him that if he kept up that pace he’d be having Japanese surgery very soon. That pitcher spent 3 months of the season with a cast on his pitcher arm from his wrist to above his elbow. But change comes very slowly there and I’ve often used the analogy of the Asian pitcher’s work routine to that of jumping off a bridge. You see other people do it, you see them drown but you go ahead and jump too, because that is what everyone does, no one questions it. The other contributor to the devaluing of Asian pitchers as MLB prospects is the free agent system. It takes 9 years of accredited service time to become a free agent in Japan and Korea, compared to 6 in MLB. By the time most reach free agency they have what would be the equivalent of about 12-15 years of pitching under their belt when compared to those who have pitched in MLB systems. They are essentially damaged goods. Wada and Iwakuma are sadly the latest examples. The most disheartening part to me is that there are good pitchers in Asia, ones that could be impact players in MLB. The problem is they get overworked and by the time they get near free agency they cannot maintain the level of ability they start their professional careers with. Hiroki Kuroda is rare exception, coming to the States at 33 years old he has put together a nice career with the Dodgers and Yankees (3.46 career ERA in 119 starts).Hideo Nomo started here at 26 years old, Darvish at 25, and even Dice-K was just 26 but after 2 1/2 respectable seasons even he has had injury issues. You may not have noticed this but there has never been a player taken from the Korean professional league (KBO) to MLB. All the Korean players to reach the major leagues like Chan Ho Park and Shin-Soo Choo were signed as amateurs. It is the belief among the Pacific Rim scouts that I have talked to that if you want to get a good Korean player you have to get him before he signs a professional contract at home. With the combination of the heavy workload and 9 years of free agency they believe by the time you can get your hands on a Korean professional baseball player it is too late. The system is unfortunate, there is money to be made for both Asian teams and their players. There are dreams that could be lived out, as many Asian players want to come to the major leagues. But something has to change, because at the pace were on less and less players will get that opportunity. The exceptions will happen but most won’t be able to overcome the unnecessary obstacles.