Step right up, any Major League Baseball teams willing to put up $20 million just to negotiate with pitching star Masahiro Tanaka of Japan. Not long after MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball finalized agreement on new posting rules, Tanaka was given consent from his ownership to leave for North America if he wishes. And it's believed that he does wish it.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times (who is fluent in three languages, including Japanese), read about it at Sanspo:
Sanspo: Rakuten owner Hiroshi Mikitani will allow Masahiro Tanaka to come to the major leagues this winter http://t.co/9pvPZpJuE1
— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) December 16, 2013
Any MLB team can bid up to $20 million for the right to negotiate with Tanaka, or any other NPB player who gets posted by his team in Japan. If 30 teams bid $20 million apiece (which is not expected) then all of them are free to negotiate. After the negotiations conclude for the contract, the losing teams will get their $20 million posting fee back and the winning team will forfeit that amount to the Rakuten Golden Eagles. And then they'll have to pay Tanaka.
When the Texas Rangers signed Yu Darvish two years ago, they paid a record $51.7 million just as a posting fee, before agreeing on a six-year, $60 million contract. Tanaka is 25 years old and coming off a 24-0, 1.27 ERA season for Rakuten, which won its World Series. Tanaka is not reputed to be as good as Darvish, but that doesn't mean someone like the New York Yankees won't pay him like Darvish, or better. The next step for Tanaka, though, is to secure an agent for MLB.
Tanaka is rated the No. 2 free agent overall this offseason by Yahoo's Jeff Passan on his Ultimate Free Agent Tracker.
Considering their wealth and their need for another starting pitcher or two, or possibly three, the Yankees should be considered Tanaka favorites. The Chicago Cubs reportedly are interested too. Maybe the Dodgers. And the Seattle Mariners would make sense, given the money they have to spend and their links to Japan. Perhaps if the offers reach Robinson Cano proportions again, the Yankees will flip the chicken switch and let Tanaka fly away. If they do, their best chance to contend again in the AL East might go with him.
Any player in NPB that doesn't have nine seasons of service time in Japan must go through the posting system, which is in place to prevent blatant poaching by foreign leagues and to curb the "freedom" in free agency. It's also a way to ensure a player's team in Japan gets something for losing that player. MLB and Japan have been negotiating changes to the posting system because some owners in North America didn't like the pricey open-ended bidding system.
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