Penny Leaves Japan, Seeks MLB OpportunityMay 8th, 2012My friend Jason Coskrey (@JCoskrey) of the Japan Times passed along the news that former MLB All-Star Brad Penny has asked for his release from the Softbank Hawks of Japan’s professional baseball league (NPB) and that they gave it to him. I find this information more interesting than most because of my experience in Japan and that I played for those same SoftBank Hawks. Penny signed a $4 million contract with another $3.5 million in incentives, that’s a lot of money to walk away from. But maybe not so much for Penny, Baseball-Reference.com estimates his career earnings at just under $50 million.When foreigners go to Japan, especially ones who have spent significant time in the major leagues, they have to go there with an open mind or it will never work. To put it simply, Japan is different. The coaches are different, the food is different, the living situation is different, the baseball is different, the travel is different, the media is different, etc. etc. Personally I loved it, but it’s not for everyone. Established big leaguers generally have a less likely chance of making the adjustments in Japan. If they don’t need the money they may not see all the differences being worth it. Buster Olney of ESPN was quick to point out on Twitter that, “Brad Penny has offers to be a starter and offers to be a reliever from MLB teams. Will choose soon.”Wow. That was fast. I can’t imagine the fans in NPB will be very happy to hear that. As one Japanese fan told me, “Penny allowed a lot of runs against the Eagles. He said he had a sore shoulder and went back to US. BUT,He has been enjoying the holiday in the US. We were disappointed in him.” Penny made 1 start, lasted 3.1 innings and allowed 6 runs (4 earned). This presents a bigger issue for Japanese teams going forward. The ones that have money to spend prefer to spend in on experienced major leaguers. They’ll pay too, some foreign players have made more than $6 million a season there, but like any guaranteed contract there is risk. The bigger risk is giving big money to first time players in Japan. Jason Johnson was given $3 million by the Seibu Lions back in 2007. He didn’t enjoy the experience and only made 7 starts for them, going 1-4 with a 4.35 ERA. Essentially the Lions brought him in to replace Dice-K, who they posted to MLB (the Red Sox won the bid) in the previous off-season. To me it’s almost like putting money into a high draft pick. If you’re going to spend that kind of money you better make sure he wants to be there and he’s going to give his all. You can’t blame Penny for wanting to come home. Sometime the changes are just too much, you get homesick and you miss the American game. I get it, but this is a bad mark on American players, especially if Penny winds up being healthy and gets back to the big leagues.