Tanaka's move a great gift for Major League fans
Yankees, D-backs, Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers among pitcher's possible suitors
The paperwork hasn't been submitted, but it looks like Masahiro Tanaka is going to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Nice. Very nice.
For baseball fans in North America, the reports from Japanese newspapers Sponichi and Sankei Sports are a fine holiday present. Since it's far too early to know where he will wind up, followers all across baseball can rub their hands together and imagine him piling up strikeouts in their favorite team's uniform.
And you know it's good news for Tanaka, who wanted to be posted. What was he going to prove by staying in Japan after his 24-0 season in 2013, which was capped by a championship in the Japan Series?
The Tanaka saga has been playing out over the last month, with Rakuten balancing Tanaka's desire to pitch in the United States against the changes recently negotiated into the posting system between Major League Baseball and the Nippon Baseball League. The Golden Eagles control the right-hander's fate for next season and had threatened to hang on to him rather than accept a $20 million maximum bid.
They had been hoping for something like $51.7 million, which is what the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters received when they posted Yu Darvish two years ago. But the new system caps the bidding process, freeing the player to negotiate with every team that antes up the max, not just the one team with the highest bid.
It appears that the Golden Eagles' ownership has decided it would be wrong to hang on to Tanaka for one more year (before then posting him) or two seasons (before he leaves as a free agent). That is the team's right, but it would look selfish making him stay against his wishes and those of most Japanese fans, who are eager to see if he can be as successful as Darvish.
This figures to be a windfall for Tanaka, who could wind up making $15 million or more a year as opposed to the six-year, $60 million deal that Scott Boras negotiated for Darvish with the Rangers.
Before 2013, Darvish was considered a superior pitcher to Tanaka. But this season raised questions as to whether Tanaka has become his equal. If he has, then he could also challenge for Cy Young Awards in the next few seasons.
Darvish led the Major Leagues with 277 strikeouts this season, going 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA for the Rangers to finish second to Max Scherzer in Cy Young voting. He's been an All-Star in both of his seasons with the Rangers, going 29-18 in 61 starts.
If Tanaka truly compares to him, and unlike Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana he's available without giving up a Draft pick, you can understand the bidding that could take place in the 30-day window he would have to sign a contract.
Tanaka's appeal is almost universal. Teams like the Yankees and D-backs, who want to add an ace to the front of the rotation with a chance to win immediately, would understandably be in hot pursuit. But the competition could also include the Cubs, who are looking farther down the road. He'll pitch at age 25 next season, so they feel he'll still be in his prime in 2016 and beyond, when they hope to be a 90-win team capable of a long October run.
It will be interesting to see if the Yankees go all in on Tanaka, as that would most likely mean abandoning their desire to stay under the $189 million threshold for the luxury tax. The Dodgers are also an interesting team to watch, as they've gotten just about every player they've set their sights on since getting their new ownership in 2012.
With Clayton Kershaw only a year away from free agency and headed toward a record-setting contract, would they come out of the woodwork to put Tanaka alongside him, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, whom they claimed from the Korean posting system a year ago?
And what about the Rangers? They have scouted Tanaka almost as closely as they did Darvish. Would they spend heavily to get him after giving Shin-Soo Choo a $130 million deal and taking on seven years of Prince Fielder?
There are a lot of questions to be answered. But if the reports (passed along by Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times) are correct, the most important one of all has been answered. Tanaka is coming to the United States -- at least that's how it looks now. As always, stay tuned for further clarification.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.