After months of deliberation and negotiations, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is going to get his wish. Late Tuesday night, the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball announced that they would post their 25-year-old ace, allowing him to come to Major League Baseball, according to a report in Japan's Sankei Sports and Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. The announcement, which Sankei says came directly from Rakuten's president, Yozo Tachibana, means that all 30 MLB teams will have an opportunity to bid on and sign Tanaka, regarded to be one of the top free-agent pitchers on the market.
Tanaka had long been rumored to be coming to the United States, but his odds of joining an MLB team were in jeopardy after MLB and NPB agreed to a restructuring of the posting system that put a $20 million cap on bids for interested teams. Initially, reports out of Japan stated that Rakuten was unwilling to let Tanaka go for that sum, and would instead ride out his contract. That stance has apparently changed in the last few days, with the Christmas Eve announcement from the Golden Eagles closing the matter.
With Tanaka now available for MLB teams, the free-agent pitching market—which has moved far more slowly than the market for position players—should see an uptick in movement. Pitchers like Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, who have sat on the sidelines waiting for offers, will likely have teams come calling once Tanaka's new home is determined. His signing could also jump-start movement on the David Price front, as the Rays have reportedly been shopping their ace all offseason.
Under the new posting system negotiated by MLB and NPB, any team willing to put up the $20 million flat fee can talk to and sign Tanaka. That's a major change from the previous system, in which MLB teams submitted blind bids for any amount of money, and in which the player was free to negotiate only with the winning team. With the relatively low bid limit, expect numerous teams to jump into the fray. Previous reports have indicated that the Yankees, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers and a handful of others are the favorites to land Tanaka.
CORCORAN: New posting system for Japanese players favors players, MLB teams With Rakuten in 2013, Tanaka posted a 1.27 ERA over 212 innings with 183 strikeouts and just 32 walks, going 24-0 in the process and helping them to the Japan Series title. Had the Golden Eagles not posted Tanaka, he would have remained in Japan until after the 2015 season. Prior to agreeing to post Tanaka, Rakuten was said to be considering a new contract for their young star in which they would double or perhaps even triple his $4 million annual salary, making him the highest-paid pitcher in NPB history.