Tanaka posting sweetens New Year for MLB
Japanese ace expected to draw heavy bidding coming off 24-0 season
The North American supply of pitching has just been enriched. This could mean a happier New Year than expected for one Major League rotation.
The Rakuten Golden Eagles, according to reports, have decided to make the leading ace of Japanese baseball, Masahiro Tanaka, available for posting.
Tanaka is expected to set off an intense bidding war among MLB franchises. And with his numbers, why not? Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for Rakuten in 2013. He was named the Pacific League MVP in Japan, and won his second Sawamura Award, which is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award.
Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball concluded an agreement recently that limited the maximum posting fee to $20 million. That agreement may have been disappointing to the Rakuten club, particularly in this instance. There had been speculation that the posting fee, which gives a Major League team the right to negotiate with the Japanese player in question, would have set a record in the case of Tanaka. The previous posting fee record was $51.7 million for pitcher Yu Darvish, now with the Texas Rangers.
The $20 million maximum may mean that more Major League clubs will be in the initial hunt for Tanaka's services. Tanaka is considered to be Japan's best pitcher. He is probably even more salable because of the success Darvish has enjoyed in his first two seasons in the Majors.
Tanaka, at 25, may be entering the prime of his career. The 2013 season was his best, but it didn't appear to be an aberration. He has a 99-35 record with a lifetime ERA of 2.30.
Given that the posting fee now has a maximum, the real bidding war will come in the contract terms offered to Tanaka. This will be an expensive proposition.
A number of Major League clubs, including the Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers and Mariners, have been reported to be extremely interested in acquiring Tanaka. All of these clubs have repeatedly demonstrated the ability and willingness to spend whatever it takes to sign major talent.
The Tanaka saga has taken some twists. He was going to be posted. Then, he wasn't. Now, he is. The Rakuten club had all the clout in this situation, with Tanaka is under contract through 2015.
Tanaka's availability may help to clarify the market for the free-agent pitchers still on the market. The leading candidates appear to be Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. Teams in need of pitching who cannot afford Tanaka's price, may become increasingly motivated to go after one of the conventional free-agent pitchers.
Even though he has never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues, Tanaka holds a higher stature and likely will command a far higher price than any pitcher available on the open market.
He will be the beneficiary of a pitching situation in which the demand far exceeds the supply. It is safe to say that 28 of the 30 Major League clubs -- all but St. Louis and Oakland -- needs more pitching.
And now, Tanaka goes directly to the head of the class. By the simple act of making him available for the posting process, the Golden Eagles have, in theory at least, improved the overall quality of pitching in the Western Hemisphere. The Rakuten club, of course, will also come into $20 million in the process, but the on-field result should be one more front-line pitcher for an MLB club.
Clubs with rotation issues and money to spend can afford at least a short-term bout of optimism now that Tanaka is available.
By reputation, Tanaka is going to be the kind of pitcher who can solidify a rotation, and in fact, greatly improve a rotation just by joining it. That kind of pitcher isn't available in great quantities in the current free-agent class. Tanaka is supposed to be, for some well-heeled Major League team, a quick rotation fix.
Baseball has become a global game, but no matter how large the game is, it is still ruled by the immutable law: You can never have enough pitching. Tanaka is going to be a very welcome addition to North American professional baseball, especially for the one fortunate franchise that wins his services.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.