Tanaka-mania is upon us. The posting period opened Thursday for star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, and now MLB teams have until 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 24 to sign Tanaka to a contract that would officially bring him to the U.S.
After all the will-he-or-won't-he speculation about Tanaka getting posted by his Japanese club, the Rakuten Eagles, the market for Tanaka's services is now looking like the mall on Christmas Eve. Everybody's buying. Since posting fees for Japanese players are now capped at $20 million, pretty much every MLB team can afford to bid for his services. For reference: When Yu Darvish signed with the Texas Rangers, the posting fee alone (paid to his Japanese team) was $51.7 million.
With a lower posting fee comes more suitors. With more suitors comes a bigger contract for Tanaka. How big? Well, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that team officials looking to land Tanaka see his value at $17 million per year — at minimum.
That seems like a lot of money for an unproven-in-the-U.S. pitcher, but when you look at salaries around the league, maybe it isn't. Tim Lincecum's new contract with the San Francisco Giants will pay him $17 million in 2014, after he had a 4.37 ERA last season with a 10-14 record. Mark Buehrle, 12-10 last season with a 4.15 ERA, is making $18 million in 2014.
Can Tanaka be as good as those guys in 2014? Sure. That possibility — and the potential for much more; remember he's only 25 — is enough that a team will pay Tanaka much more in his contract than Darvish got from the Rangers.
Darvish signed a six-year, $56 million contract and will make $10 million next season, which seems like a bargain at this point. Tanaka is young and could be an ace. Guys like him don't come around too often on the open market.
As you probably know, Tanaka was 24-0 last season in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league with a 1.27 ERA. That wasn't a fluke either. He was 19-5 with a 1.27 ERA in 2011, while his ERA "ballooned" to 1.87 in 2012. For comparison's sake: Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA in the NPB the season before he joined the Rangers.
The New York Yankees, of course, are a team that desperately needs starting pitching and have to considered one of the favorites to land Tanaka because, well, they're the Yankees. According to Marc Carig of Newsday, the Yankees have already been in touch with Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, who the team knows well because he's also Derek Jeter's agent.
The big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers are another team that could land Tanaka, as are the increasingly interesting Seattle Mariners, who already paid big bucks to Robinson Cano and have a good history with Japanese players. The Mariners are "going to be a factor," according to a New York Daily News report.
Fact of the matter is, Tanaka makes sense for a lot of teams. Win-now teams will want him to bolster their rotations immediately, while rebuilders could use him three or four years from now when he'll be in his prime. That's why you can't count out a team like the Chicago Cubs.
The next month should be one heck of a wooing period.
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