LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – While the owner of the Rakuten Golden Eagles said he was "disappointed" in the new posting system that will severely limit the money his team can reap from star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, Major League Baseball is barreling ahead with the agreement expected to be ratified Monday or Tuesday, industry sources told Yahoo Sports.
At that point, Rakuten must decide whether to take a $20 million posting fee for Tanaka this year and set off an unprecedented 30-team free-agent frenzy or decline to post him against his wishes – a decision Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said the team has not yet made.
"I don't know if $20 million is fair value for this kind of trade," Rakuten assistant general manager Aki Sasaki said. " ... I don't know if it's the right price."
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One source close to Tanaka told Yahoo Sports he "absolutely" wants to pitch in the major leagues next season, and Sasaki admitted that during a conversation a year ago, Tanaka, now a 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this season, communicated a desire to pitch in MLB. While the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are presumptive favorites because of their spending heft, nearly every team, from the Chicago Cubs to the Houston Astros, is expected to at very least inquire about Tanaka's price.
"He just expressed his dream is playing in the States," Sasaki said. "We understood. At that time, according to the posting system, that's what we promised to him after the 2013 season: We're going to discuss your dream."
The discussion changed after MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball agreed on a radically different posting system than years past, when teams bid blindly for the right to negotiate with a player. MLB's executive council is expected to ratify the agreement by phone, sources said, and the MLB Players Association will back the plan as well.
Details of the new system, outlined to Yahoo Sports by two sources, end up with a significant portion of money going to the player as opposed to the near-50/50 split when Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka were posted.
The agreement, sources said, will last three years. If a team decides to post a player, it will inform MLB of what one source called a "release price" of up to $20 million. The league will tell teams a player has been posted and inform them of his price, and 24 hours later, all 30 teams will be free to begin negotiating with the player. The player has 30 days to agree to a contract with a team; should no deal happen, he will return to his team in Japan and cannot be posted until after the next season.
Tanaka will have no problem finding a ripe market. If posted, executives said, he could receive a deal in excess of $100 million because of a pitching-depleted market whose best options are Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, the latter two of whom will cost teams their first-round picks to sign because their former teams tendered them qualifying offers.
Rakuten officials on Tuesday expressed concern over the accelerated nature of the decision and made no indication of a timetable on when they would choose whether to post Tanaka. Two officials from teams interested in bidding on Tanaka said they hope with the new system official on Dec. 16 or 17 that Rakuten could decide before Christmas. MLB's one slow period of the hot stove season takes place between Christmas and New Year's, and with the negotiations for Tanaka expected to take all 30 days, the prospect of Tanaka posting in January and the talks leaking into February lead to concerns of a pitching market frozen by the lack of clarity on Tanaka's potential destination.