Sizing up the competition for Masahiro Tanaka

Signing Brian Roberts isn't bad, but the Yanks need a lot more
Yankees sign Matt Thornton
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

It took a few weeks, but MLB and NPB finally ratified the new posting system agreement yesterday. Instead of the old auction-based system, Japanese players will essentially become free agents with a “release fee” that serves as a tax. The release fee is set by the player’s NPB team and can not exceed $20M. Whoever signs the player has to pay the release fee. Simple enough, right?

Now that the new posting system is in place, the Rakuten Golden Eagles can officially post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. It’s unclear if that will actually happen at this point but there’s a chance we’ll get an answer this week. Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said he will speak to Tanaka this week before determining the next step. Needless to say, the club came into the winter expecting to receive a lot more than $20M for the best pitcher in the country.

The Yankees were reportedly ready to make a big run at Tanaka before the new posting system threw a wrench into things, but the expectation is they will still push hard if he is made available. Pitchers of this caliber at this age (25) are not available for nothing but money all that often. New York won’t be the only team after Tanaka if he is posted though. The competition should be pretty fierce since every team can talk to him without having to pay the release fee. Here is a look at the Yankees’ primary competition for the righty.

Rakuten Golden Eagles
Like I said, there is no guarantee Tanaka will be posted. Sponichi (translated article) reports Rakuten will try to talk their ace into returning next year, mostly because they’re a championship-caliber team (they won the Japan Series a few weeks ago) and can make another revenue-generating title run with him in 2014 before posting him next winter. They would risk having an unhappy superstar but more importantly risk him getting hurt, which would lead to no release fee next winter and a missed opportunity. Tanaka won’t be available until the Golden Eagles say the magic words, and my hunch is that even though they were screwed over by the new posting system, they’ll make him available because the alternative is too risky.

Arizona Diamondbacks
According to Ken Rosenthal, Tanaka is the D’Backs top target as they look to add an ace. GM Kevin Towers scaled back a bit while speaking to Jack Magruder recently, saying if “for some reason he becomes posted, we’ll circle back.” When push comes to shove, Arizona doesn’t have the ability to compete in a big time bidding war. Tanaka is likely out of their price range.

Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox already have six starters and they reportedly don’t have a ton of payroll space to work with this winter, plus Alex Speier (subs. req’d) says they only view Tanaka as a number three starter at best. That could be a ruse, of course. We can’t rule them out completely, but Boston seems like an unlikely suitor for the right-hander.

Chicago Cubs
Bruce Levine says the Cubs will be in on Tanaka and they have the financial wherewithal to make a serious run at him. A young, high-end starter would be quite the addition to their rebuilding club. The Cubbies would have to sell Tanaka on the idea of joining a clear non-contender who hasn’t won anything in more than a century, which may not be easy if the money if their contract offer doesn’t blow everyone else’s out of the water.

(Junko Kimura/Getty)
(Junko Kimura/Getty)

Los Angeles Angels
After coming into the winter with minimal payroll space, GM Jerry Dipoto has cleared enough cash through trades (dumping Mark Trumbo, specifically) and non-tenders to make a run at a pricey starter. Dipoto told Jerry Crasnick the team will “remain patient and abide by the rules” until Tanaka is posted (meaning they won’t talk about him publicly), at which point they will have “a lot of conversation about it.” The Halos have some money to spend but they’ve taken a more disciplined approach to this offseason after spending big in recent years. Another huge signing may not be in the cards.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Surprisingly, the Dodgers appear to be lukewarm on Tanaka — Bill Shaikin says they are interested but not at any cost. Given their super-deep pockets and desire to add another starter, we can’t count them out. Not even close. Keep in mind that the team has a long history of bringing players over from Asia, most notably Hideo Nomo, Kaz Ishii, Takashi Saito, Hiroki Kuroda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have a ton of money, they’re in position to win a title as soon as 2014, there’s a big Japanese community in Los Angeles, and the travel back to Japan is as easy as it gets from an MLB city. There’s an obvious fit if the team wants to enter the fray.

Seattle Mariners
The Mariners didn’t give Robinson Cano a ten-year contract with the intention of doing nothing else this winter. They’re pursuing David Price but do not want to part with top prospect Taijuan Walker, so Tanaka is an obvious alternative. The team has plenty of ties to Japan, including their ownership group (Nintendo!), former players like Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima, and current players like Hisashi Iwakuma, who was Tanaka’s teammate with Rakuten from 2007-2011. Like Los Angeles, Seattle has a big Japanese community and travel back to Japan is relatively easy. After dropping all that money on Cano, we can’t rule the Mariners out.

Texas Rangers
T.R. Sullivan says the Rangers will reach out to Tanaka if he is posted, but they do not expect to sign him. There is no such thing as too much pitching, but their priority right now is adding another outfield bat, not another starter.

* * *

Plenty of contending (or wannabe contending teams) need a starter like Tanaka but a bunch simply can’t afford him at this point. The Orioles, Braves, Reds, Giants, Royals, Blue Jays, Indians, and Pirates fit into this group. The Tigers, Cardinals, and Nationals have not been connected to him at all this winter either. The Yankees have the ability to outspend everyone if they choose, but the competition for Tanaka is going to be stiff if he is posted. The Dodgers, Cubs, and Mariners stand out as the biggest threats.

Signing Brian Roberts isn't bad, but the Yanks need a lot more
Yankees sign Matt Thornton
  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    It’s going to take at least 6/$100M to sign him, IMHO.

    • Nate

      Did not see your figure before I posted mine. Great minds think alike, I guess.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      The Mariners, Cubs, & perhaps Rangers will pay more than that. I’d pass.

    • Laz

      Could see that. Darvish was essentially 108/6.

  • Nate


  • vin

    Those damn Mariners again. It all started in ’95. I figured ’00 and ’01 would’ve put an end to this silly “rivalry.”

    • Jimmy

      Just reading 1995 in reference to Seattle hurts.

      • TheEvilUmpire

        Number of World Series Championships since 1995:

        Yankees – 5

        Mariners – 0

        There. Feel better?

      • RetroRob

        1995 reminds me of the arrival of Mariano Rivera, a young SS sitting on the bench during the postseason watching and waiting, and it all set the stage for the trade for Tino and a dynasty run. Now 2001, game 7, that will get me going.

        • ChrisS

          The thing that kills me about that loss is that Mo jammed Gonzalez to hit a weak blooper just like he wants but it falls for a goddamn base hit.

        • Jimmy

          You’re right but iF you grew up in Don Mattingly’s prime, you’d understand better.

          • handtius


            • trr

              well said, handtius!

  • Larry

    I think if dodgers want him badly then he’s a dodger

    • Kosmo

      If he wants to pitch for the Yanks then he´s a Yank.

      • TheEvilUmpire

        Got a feeling Cash is going balls-to-the-wall with Tanaka.

  • jim p

    Are there any other Japanese players/stars, any position, likely to be posted? Or is it all just Tanaka?

    • Kosmo

      Maeda #2 best Japanese SP has also expressed interest in being posted.

      • RetroRob

        The last time the Yankees lost out on the #1 starter from Japan and went for the #2 starter…

        • Kosmo

          R-Rob read up on Maeda he´s a very good if not excellent SP.

          • Bo Knows

            With below average stuff, he’s a RH Nuno from what I’ve read

            • Kosmo

              Compared to Tanaka, Maeda doesn’t throw as hard or have a devastating out pitch like Tanaka’s splitter, but he is the No. 2 pitcher in Japan and would go immediately to the majors if posted. This past season, Maeda led Japan’s Central League in ERA and ranked second in strikeouts, posting a 2.10 ERA in 175 2/3 innings with 158 strikeouts (8.1 K/9) and 40 walks (2.0 BB/9). In 2010, Maeda won the Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young.

              Maeda is a slightly-built 6 feet, 160 pounds and throws around 87-93 mph with good sink and run, though he doesn’t get great angle on his fastball. He’s a good athlete, which helps him repeat his delivery and thrive when his command, which can be plus at times, is on point. Maeda doesn’t have one knockout secondary pitch, but he has a solid-average slider and mixes in a curveball and a changeup as well.

              “I liked Maeda” said a second international director. “He could be a fourth starter at the big league level. I really like his command and he has a good slider. He doesn’t have much plane, he really has to hit his spots, but he has good stuff. It’s not overpowering stuff, but he’ll keep you in games.”

        • Jerkface

          Igawa was NOT the #2 starter in Japan. He was just the second Japanese pitcher to be posted. The Yankees posted for him despite scouting reports saying he is a 5th starter. Maeda is legit good and probably would be able to pitch in the majors, just not at a high level. Igawa was a AAA guy and can’t even pitch successfully in the NPB at this point.

  • vin

    Japanese pitchers will now be valued more like actual Free Agents than what they were. Any price break from a typical FA would be simply because the uncertainty of jumping to the US.

    6/100 sounds good to me. Which, give my past prognostications, means he’ll probably end up slightly north of that.

  • http://bleacherreport tony

    Are you guys kidding me? He will be pitching in the bronc this summer.

    • Rick

      Donde esta bronc?

  • Theonewhoknocks

    I think tanaka gets 7 years $126mil from the mariners

    • Kosmo

      no team is going as high as 7/126 for an unproven MLB pitcher. That would be insane.

      • hey now

        “That would be insane.”

        I guess that’s why he went w/the Mariners.

        • Kosmo

          I think Tanaka is an intelligent young man.

          • Mr. Sparkle

            I think his “insane” comment was in reference to the questionable mentality of those in the Mariners’ front office.

            • Kosmo

              I understand what his comment meant and I repeat Tanaka is an intelligent young man.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        The Red Sox committed 6 years and a total of about $103M for DiceK 7 years ago. (amounting to a bit over $17M/year)
        The Rangers committed 6 years and about $108M for Darvish 2 years ago. (amounting to about $18M/year)

        Teams have a lot more money to spend now, and this is closer to true free agency.
        7/$126M is entirely possible (though probably high factoring in the added $20M posting fee, which would bring it up to almost $21M/year)

        • Kosmo

          I´m not talking posting fees. Subtract posting fees and you´ll get what the contract the player was committed to.
          We all know now there will be no variance to the posting fee.

          • ChrisS

            The posting fee is relevant to the former signees because that was the cost for exclusive negotiating rights.

            Now, any team can front $20m and bid however they like with no lost draft picks or spending caps. He’s 25 and if he’s expected to average 2-3 WAR a season (Darvish is averaging 5 WAR so far over two seasons) for 6-8 years at the market rate of ~$6-$7m/WAR, you’re looking at drumroll 6/$72m to 8/$168m. And judging by the spending that teams are doing this season, I’m leaning towards the higher numbers. Puig was signed to a 7/$42m deal and teams didn’t even get a decent look at him. They have 1,300 innings of NPB data and video on Tanaka.

          • Need Pitching & Hitting

            That’s not the cost to acquire the player though.
            The bottom line is the Red Sox and Rangers were willing to commit over $100M each for 6 years of an unproven pitcher.
            I’d expect at least a similar total commitment to acquire Tanaka (including the $20M posting fee). I’d guess he’ll get at least an $80M contract, and likely more based on the relatively weak SP market and teams having more money to spend.

        • qwerty

          It’s not just the contract and posting fees. You also have to factor in the luxury tax. Is there any doubt that Tanaka’s contract will easily take them over the 189 million threshold? Tanaka would be a HUGE investment for the yankees.

          • Need Pitching & Hitting

            I agree. It’ll definitely be a huge investment and huge risk.
            But the luxury tax wouldn’t affect some of the other teams who might be in the bidding.
            They’ll likely be over the threshold regardless of Tanaka anyways.

            • qwerty

              Precisely. A 20 million a year contract for them is just 20 million, minus the posting fee, but the yankees pay 50% for every dollar over 189. If they offer him 20 they might as well be paying 30 million a year for him.

      • TheEvilUmpire

        How often does a potential ace caliber pitcher hit the market at 25 years old? I fear there is at least one ownership group is about to have a bout of temporary insanity! (Mariners are my guess too!)

  • UncleArgyl

    Yanks sign him for 5/90

    • ChrisS

      no chance that this is less than $100m

  • Wolfgang’s Fault

    Sign Alfredo Aceves, & get out there and find some Mexican League arms. The Tanaka story already sounds like a disaster.

  • Rick

    If we would’ve re-signed Granderson, I would be convinced that the Yankees were trying to assemble the 2009 Team USA World Baseball Classic Roster…

    • Rick

      Add Matt Thornton to the list.

    • Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

      I will take me some David Wright and Ryan Braun while they are at it.

  • There’s the Door

    Don’t get your hopes up. NYY done signing topliners. They’ll be under 189.

    • I’m One

      I’ll wait to see what actually happens rather than take your word for it at this point.

  • Frank

    I wouldn’t discount the Giants, who also have a large Asian demographic. But I suspect he winds up with the Dodgers. Yanks seem to be placing all their eggs in the Tanaka basket. If they don’t get him, who then?

    • Kosmo

      Kershaw, Ryu, Greinke, Haren with Billingsley and Beckett returning from injury. I don´t see them as major players.

      Yanks could also target Garza and possibly Maeda if they don´t land Tanaka.

  • TWTR

    They need to: a) spend the most money; and b) couple that with one of “George in his prime” charm offenses.

  • Rod

    It’s only money. Sign him for 10yrs/$150M. Keeps the annual average down, too.

  • Farewell Mo

    This is the kind of situation where the Yankees need to go all in unless the contract gets completely obscene.

    They need to replace the 3.2 WAR lost from Andy Pettitte and unless they’re gonna sign Garza or Jimenez, that’s the way to do it.

  • Laz

    If CC and Pineda can get healthy that will be a nice rotation.

    • qwerty

      CC is perfectly healthy.

      • Laz

        There was something not right with him all last year.

  • Chris

    I actually follow Japanese baseball pretty closely. I HATE Tanaka right now, because I’m a Fighters fan. That’d be like asking you guys how you feel about John Lackey. But I’d LOVE to see the Yankees grab Ma-kun (that’s his nickname over there), I was absolutely heartbroken to see Cash make that absurdly low bid on Darvish (who was the Fighter’s ace for those who don’t know) and lose him to Texas. A 25 year old starter who’s actually good? Can you imagine if Pineda turns out to be good too? My God, when was the last time we had 2 top SPs in our rotation under 25? 1967?

    That being said, there is no guarantee that Rakuten posts him and let me just say that after years of following the NPB, these so-called “official” Japanese sports news sites like Sponichi are completely unreliable.

    Also, the Yankees haven’t gone all out on a rookie Japanese or even Asian player since Igawa. They’ve had opportunities time and again but they always get cold feet, so I have zero faith that they will do it now. The other thing is too that, while Tanaka may slot as a #3, you’re going to have to woo him with an offer as though he is an ace. Japanese players always prefer to play for LA or Seattle, because they are more comfortable there, so NY is going to have to sell him on the Yankees and fork over big bucks if they truly want him. Hal cannot hold back on this one and I just don’t believe he’ll offer what you realistically need to put on the table in order to take Tanaka away from the west coast. Yeah he is expensive, but this isn’t just about 2014-15 like Beltran, he’s 25, you can potentially keep him around for 10 years.

    So my verdict is: IF Tanaka is posted and IF the Yankees want him… they’re going to get him. But they have to REALLY want him.

    • Eselquetodolosabe

      Chris, nice info brother, thanks. What’s your take on Tanaka, and how he’ll fare in the majors? What about Maeda ?

    • qwerty

      The yankees have gone all in on japanese pitchers because they haven’t been wowed by anyone ever since Kei Igawa.

      • Chris

        You should look at Kei Igawa’s stats in comparison to some of the other pitchers who have come over from Japan. He doesn’t even come close to matching up. For the record, Igawa is back in Japan and he’s mediocre at best. I’m not going to throw a ton of numbers at you, if you want to look up NPB stats, go to the official English language site. I will say this though to quell the Kei Igawa argument. Igawa’s lifetime NPB ERA is 3.20. Tanaka’s is 2.30, so yes, Tanaka is WAY better.

    • Jeter’s Parting Gift Basket

      “The other thing is too that, while Tanaka may slot as a #3, you’re going to have to woo him with an offer as though he is an ace.”

      Assuming his stuff translates, too.

      No thanks. The guy to get was always Darvish. You compound that mistake by taking a lesser talent for more money.

      • Chris

        You have a point, but Darvish is considered to be one of the greatest pitchers Japan has ever produced. He’s even one of the best SPs around in the MLB right now. Arguing that you shouldn’t grab anyone from Japan because they don’t match up to Darvish is like saying that you aren’t going to sign any CFs from Oklahoma because they don’t wow you like Mantle.

        I think Tanaka has the stuff to be a solid #2-3 guy here and that is in no way a bad thing for the Yankees to have. Also, you have Kuroda there to mentor this kid for a season. Kuroda is possibly the most successful Japanese starting pitcher to make the leap from the NPB to the MLB at this point. If there is one guy in the history of baseball that I want mentoring a young Japanese player looking to make it in NY, it’s Kuroda.

        But I could be wrong. Always a risk with these kinds of things. But that Yankees have the deep pockets to be able to afford that risk. You’re going to have to take risks like this if this team is ever going to get younger.

  • Anthony

    Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago says it’s believed to be a long shot that the Cubs will sign Tanaka:

    “Two industry sources with knowledge of the team’s financial picture said there’s no chance, predicting the Cubs will be out of the running. One club official questioned why they would pour $100 million into one player when there are so many holes in the roster. Another stressed the considerable risk in giving a pitcher a megadeal”

    Here’s the link:

    • jsbrendog

      +1 and a thousand thank yous for posting a link to back it all up

  • Dicka24

    The Yankees just signed Matt Thornton to a 2 year $7 million deal. Meh… I’d have preferred a proven RHP, and gone with what they have from the left. Thornton didn’t look all that great when I saw him pitch for the Redsox. It’s a decent deal when you consider what Boone Logan got from the Rockies.

    • Mike

      Thornton is a similar pitcher to Logan for a much lower salary. Great move.

  • Bill James

    So lets say we do get Tanaka. What would our rotation look like? Do you think Robertson is our closer? If so, who’s set up?

  • Leg-End

    We needed that Tanaka, Karen!

    Don’t get outbid, get it done. He’s just an ideal fit.

  • EMags

    On Thornton, we basically got a good deal on a so – so pitcher who is aging fast. Feels like 2012 again.

  • Jeter’s Parting Gift Basket

    The guy to get was Darvish. A bigger post meant a lower salary. But I suppose this is back when they had a “plan” to get under 189. Too bad they wasted the last two seasons for no measurable gain, but I digress…

    Tanaka seems like an average starter to me. He’s not particularly big and all the qualifications about Japanese pitching apply – smaller ball, more rest between starts, weaker hitters, etc.

    • Mike

      Tanaka would be a top of the rotation pitcher for us.

      • Jeter’s Parting Gift Basket

        Says what? Dice-K or Irabu?

        • Chris

          No says Iwakuma, Darvish, Okajima, Saito, Kuroda, Uehara and that’s just off the top of my head…

          You can’t say that he won’t be successful because of a few failures. The success stories far outweigh the failures on this topic. You cannot blacklist all Japanese pitchers just because they made a stupid signing for Kei Igawa in 2006 to save face for losing Dice-K. If you want the Yankees to get younger, you’re going to have be prepared to take risks… Or don’t. But that logic is why most of this team is over 33.

    • Bo Knows

      He’s 6’2, that is not a small pitcher same size as Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, Zack Greinke and just a single inch shorter that Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Bucholz, Matt Moore, King Felix. Also the Japanese League has changed the ball to something similar in size to the MLB ball. On top of the similar sizes now; there are rumors that the balls have also been juiced by the NPB because there have been a big uptick in homers given up the past 2 seasons.

      I used to be concerned about his strikeout rates that have dipped this year, but it’s been widely reported that Tanaka has altered his approach to go for more contact in an effort to be more efficient.

      I’ll also admit the more rest is a concern, but Tanaka has been pitching to players that can be considered better than AAA caliber players since he was 18 and has done a really fine job at it. If this was a Prospect in America that had his numbers, he’d be talked about as one of the 10 best prospects in the game.

      • Jeter’s Parting Gift Basket

        “He’s 6’2, that is not a small pitcher same size as Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, Zack Greinke ”

        One’s a lefty and the others aren’t exactly templates for health.

        “Also the Japanese League has changed the ball to something similar in size to the MLB ball. ”

        And the surface? Or the number of times they can go to their mouth?

        Better than AAA? Nope. Most aren’t even AA. Look at the MLB guys who go there and are superstars.

        “If this was a Prospect in America that had his numbers, he’d be talked about as one of the 10 best prospects in the game.”

        You mean like Hughes? Or Joba?

        • jjyank

          What does being a lefty have to do with height? What do Hughes and Joba have to do with Tanaka? What the fuck is your point?

        • Bo Knows

          Nothing you said is a valid, or even a coherent argument:

          1: What does being left handed have to do precluding them from being mentioned in a case about a pitcher where you specifically question his size? I should also add, that the average height for a pitcher is 6’2, I chose to list more famous names for simplicity sake.

          2) The npb ball was designed to closely mimic the mlb professional ball and if your insinuating that the Japanese pitchers doctor the ball…welcome to baseball players doctor the ball all the time and will always do that. I’ve been watching baseball most of my life; as I’m sure you have as well; players lick there hands all the time how is that any different because they are in japan?

          The Japanese League is widely regarded as a Quad A level by practically any and every baseball hierarchy and analyst around. On top of that there have always been players that can and do demolish the AAA level as well as every other level before that and once they are called up to the MLB they struggle greatly this is where the nickname “AAAA Player” comes from.

          Lastly; exactly like Hughes and Joba but there are also other guys Matt Harvey, Clayton Kershaw; King Felix; Strasburg, Bundy; Giolito and countless other star pitchers that dominated older and strong competition.

    • Different Steve

      The ball isn’t smaller. That was changed prior to the 2011 season.

      Just saying

  • Mike

    We have a great shot at Tanaka. His team just won the WS in Japan and he has a shot to sign with us. A perennial WS contender. It’s a perfect fit.

  • Travis M. Nelson

    I can easily see the total contract for a guy like Tanaka getting way into the 9-figure range. The Darvish posting fee was higher, of course, but the contract dollars were significantly deflated by the fact that he couldn’t negotiate with other teams. Plus the fact that Darvish has been extremely successful should only drive up Tanaka’s price. Teams have regularly been signing pitchers who are 28 or 29 to 6 and 7 year deals. I would not be surprised to see Tanaka net something like 8 years and $150M.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    If he’s posted, negotiations and competition for Tanaka could get a bit crazy…, nuts even. Teams are spending like “drunken sailors”, and as we’ve seen, it only takes one. I say this one escalates to aav of 20mm, for up to 8 years. Necessity spawns unfounded optimism, blindness and lunacy. This process is very similar to an auction. Some times you raise your hand without realizing, and before you know it, you’re the proud owner of a 1998 POS…, awww, who am I kiddin’ ! Damn it to hell – man the torpedoes, full steam ahead !!!

  • trr

    opinions vary as to just how effective Mr. T. would be at the MLB level….this is a very expensive roll of the dice…put a gun at my head and I say: you have to go after him.

  • http://Same David Jennings

    We need Tanaka, Garza, and Benoit.