If re-signing Robinson Cano is priority No. 1 for the New York Yankees this offseason, securing the rights to Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka is No. 1a. And they’re willing to spend more money than any team ever has bidding on a Japanese player.
Sources with knowledge of the Yankees’ plans said they are “going to be bold” in bidding on the 25-year-old right-hander when the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him, likely later this month. Just how high the Yankees plan on going is unclear, but executives believe the winning bid for the rights to negotiate a contract with Tanaka will top $75 million, nearly a 50 percent premium over the posting fees for Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
One of the main holdups: Nobody knows what the bidding process even looks like, as Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball continue to hash out the details of the posting system. In the past, teams have placed blind bids on players, with the highest bid winning exclusive negotiating rights and the Japanese team pocketing the entirety of the bid. Proposals for a new system from MLB seek to limit the money going to Japan and have met resistance from teams that use monster posting fees to recapitalize.
Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this season, losing his first game during a 160-pitch outing in the Japan Series but coming back the next day to throw the final 15 pitches in a championship-clinching Rakuten victory. He especially appeals to the Yankees because the posting fee does not count against teams’ luxury-tax figures, and the Yankees are aiming to dip below a $189 million payroll to reset their tax rate.
Yankees officials are not concerned the rough tenures of Japanese pitchers Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa would in any way repeat themselves with Tanaka. In fact, Yankees scouts compare his temperament and makeup to a player with far more success in New York: Hideki Matsui.
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New York plans on pursuing a pair of starting pitchers this offseason to complement CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and perhaps the expected-to-be-healthy Michael Pineda or Manny Banuelos. Among those they’re considering in addition to Tanaka: free agents Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Dan Haren. Jimenez would cost the Yankees a draft pick. Garza and Haren would not.
The Yankees don’t plan on pursuing Ervin Santana, whom they’re concerned would not fit well in New York, the same reservation that led to their hesitancy to bid on Zack Greinke last season.