Archive for International Free Agents

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

Three weeks and one day from now, Masahiro Tanaka‘s 30-day negotiating window will close. He’ll either sign with one of the 30 MLB clubs prior to 5pm ET on January 24th or he’ll return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan for another season. I would bet a lot of money on the former. A lot.

The Yankees have already contacted Tanaka’s agent Casey Close — Close also represents Derek Jeter, but I don’t think that automatically gives them some kind of advantage. Close represents plenty of star-caliber players — and they’re expected to pursue him very aggressively. He was their top pitching target coming into the offseason and nothing has changed despite the team’s early-winter spending spree and the revised posting system.

That new posting system has completely changed the market for Japanese players. Rather than having teams place a blind bid to win exclusive negotiating rights, Tanaka is essentially a free agent with a $20M surcharge. Whichever team signs him sends the extra $20M to Rakuten, otherwise any team can talk to him for free. His contract will be much larger than fellow Japanese hurlers like Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. His negotiating leverage is enormous.

Of course, Tanaka is still the same pitcher today that he was a few weeks ago, before the posting process was revising. His earning potential changed dramatically but his pitching skill did not. There are questions about his ability to translate from NPB to MLB just like there are with every Japanese pitcher. Some team will pay through the nose because they believe Tanaka can make the transition seamlessly. What’s an appropriate contract though? Let’s look at some benchmarks.

Seven years, $175M-180M
These are the Felix Hernandez ($175M) and Justin Verlander ($180M) contracts, which are essentially tied for the largest pitching contract in baseball history. Clayton Kershaw will smash these numbers at some point in the next 13 months one way or another, but it’s unlikely to happen before Tanaka signs. Felix was only one year older than Tanaka is now when he signed his extension, making him the most age appropriate comparable we have. A lot more than age will be considered, obviously.

Seven years, $161M
This is CC Sabathia‘s original contract with the Yankees, which was then the largest pitching contract in history. He was three years older than Tanaka when he signed and his track record of durability was insane. Tanaka has been a horse in Japan but not on Sabathia’s level when he first signed with New York.

Six years, $144M-147M
Cole Hamels ($144M) and Zack Greinke ($147M). Both guys signed their deals at age 29 (four years older than Tanaka) and were low-level aces. Highly durable and among the best pitchers in the baseball for sure, but inconsistent enough to keep them just outside the game’s truly elite. Based on everything we’ve heard in recent weeks and months, that’s the kind of pitcher Tanaka may settle in as in MLB.

Six years, $120-124M
These numbers come from the FanGraphs crowd, which has been surprisingly accurate the last two winters. The masses tend to be pretty solid guessers, it turns out. This is more or less Matt Cain’s recent extension with the Giants (six years, $127.5M), though he surely would have gotten more as a free agent. Cain was three years older than Tanaka is now when he signed.

Six years, $100M
No pitcher in baseball history has signed a contract in this neighborhood. The closest are Kevin Brown (seven years, $105M) more than a decade ago and Adam Wainwright (five years, $97.5M) a few months ago, but that extra year changes everything. Both guys were over 30 when they signed as well. I’m including this contract in the post just because we need something between the FanGraphs crowd and…

Five years, $77.5M-82.5M
C.J. Wilson ($77.5M), A.J. Burnett ($82.5M), and John Lackey ($82.5M) territory. This has become the benchmark for very good and occasionally great starters, innings eaters who fit best as the number two guy in their rotation. All three of these guys signed their contracts after their 30th birthday, however. Tanaka just turned 25 in November and that’s a huge part of his appeal.

Six years, $51M-$60M
These are the contracts Dice-K ($51M) and Darvish ($60M) settled for when they came over to MLB. It’s worth noting Darvish can opt out of the final year and $11M of his contract if he meets some Cy Young voting criteria. It is very hard to see Tanaka settling for a deal of this size. Even five years and $51M-60M seems light. We can never really rule out this type of contract, but it is worst case scenario (for Tanaka and Close) kinda stuff.

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Tanaka’s eventual contract is tailor-made for a poll, so let’s do that. Just to be clear, this poll is asking how much you would give Tanaka, not how much you think he will eventually receive. I’m curious to know how you folks value him, not how you think teams will value him. FanGraphs did that already. Is that clear? Good. Vote away.

UPDATE: I broke the poll somehow. Please enter your vote again. Thanks.

What's the most you would offer Tanaka?

Comments (125)

Via Marc Carig: The Yankees have already been in contact with agent Casey Close, who represents Masahiro Tanaka (and Derek Jeter). Yesterday was the first day teams were allowed to negotiate with the right-hander. The 30-day negotiating window expires at 5pm on January 24th and he must be officially signed by then. Passed physical, signature on the dotted line, everything.

Tanaka, 25, has reportedly been the team’s top pitching target all winter, so it’s no surprise the Yankees reached out so early. Considering every team is free to talk to him, I don’t expect this to be a quick process. Close and Tanaka will take the most of those 30 days to hear the various sales pitches, visit cities, so on and so on. There’s no rush, really. My official contract guess (emphasis on guess): six years, $112M ($4M bonus plus $18M annual salary) with an opt-out after the fifth year.

Aside: I wonder if the Yankees will ask Hiroki Kuroda to make a recruiting call to Tanaka. Jeter said he doesn’t make recruiting calls and Ichiro Suzuki will probably be gone soon. Kuroda’s a fellow starter who can talk about living in New York, pitching in Yankee Stadium, wearing the pinstripes, etc.



Wednesday: The posting period officially begins tomorrow morning and ends at 5pm ET on January 24th, reports Anthony McCarron. The contract must be signed and made official within the 30 days, not just agreed to. Tanaka will reportedly be represented by Casey Close, who also represents Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.

Tuesday: After weeks of conflicting rumors, there is finally resolution to the Masahiro Tanaka posting saga. The Rakuten Golden Eagles have indeed decided to post their ace right-hander and make him available to MLB clubs this winter, team president Yozo Tachibana announced on Tuesday. Tanaka is widely considered to be the offseason’s best available pitcher, it just wasn’t clear if he would actually be made available.

“After evaluating Tanaka’s contributions in the seven years since joining the franchise, owner Hiroshi Mikitani accepted his wish to challenge himself in the Major Leagues and decided to petition for him to be posted,” said Tachibana in a statement. “As a team which has valuable players, there’s no change in our view that this is an extremely unfair system.”

Now, just to be clear, there is no bidding under the new posting agreement. Tanaka is essentially a free agent with a $20M surcharge. He can negotiate with any team for a 30-day period — I’m not sure when that period begins, it might not be immediately due to the holiday — and whoever signs him has to pay an addition $20M “release fee” to the Golden Eagles. In the highly unlikely case that Tanaka fails to agree to a contract within the 30 days, he’ll return to Rakuten and have to wait until next winter to be posted again.

Tanaka, 25, has been one of the best pitchers in Japan for several seasons now and the best pitcher since Yu Darvish left two years ago. It hasn’t been particularly close either. His gaudy 24-0 record garnered a ton of attention this year — his 30-start unbeaten streak, which came to an end during Rakuten’s postseason run to the Japan Series title, is a professional baseball record — but his appeal extends far beyond win-loss record. Here are the obligatory stats:

’07 18 Rakuten 11 7 3.82 28 4 186.1 183 83 79 17 68 196 1.347 0.8 3.3 9.5 2.88
’08 19 Rakuten 9 7 3.49 24 5 172.2 171 71 67 9 54 159 1.303 0.5 2.8 8.3 2.94
’09 20 Rakuten 15 6 2.33 24 6 189.2 170 51 49 13 43 171 1.123 0.6 2.0 8.1 3.98
’10 21 Rakuten 11 6 2.50 20 8 155.0 159 47 43 9 32 119 1.232 0.5 1.9 6.9 3.72
’11 22 Rakuten 19 5 1.27 27 14 226.1 171 35 32 8 27 241 0.875 0.3 1.1 9.6 8.93
’12 23 Rakuten 10 4 1.87 22 8 173.0 160 45 36 4 19 169 1.035 0.2 1.0 8.8 8.89
’13 24 Rakuten 24 0 1.27 27 8 212.0 168 35 30 6 32 183 0.943 0.3 1.4 7.8 5.72
7 Seasons 99 35 2.30 172 53 1315.0 1182 367 336 66 275 1238 1.108 0.5 1.9 8.5 4.50
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2013.

According to Ben Badler (subs. req’d), Tanaka boasts a four-seam fastball thats sits anywhere from 88-96 on a given day. He locates his heater well but tends to pitch up in the zone with it, which gives some scouts pause. His 6-foot-2, 200 lb. frame makes it tough to drive the ball downhill as well. Tanaka’s mid-80s splitter is a legitimate out pitch that falls right off the table, and his low-80s slider is a quality third offering. He also throws a soft low-70s curveball. Badler says scouts project Tanaka to be a number two starter in a Major League rotation pretty much right away. Here is the obligatory video:

The Yankees, who need another starter, are expected to be very much involved in the bidding for Tanaka. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Mariners are viewed as their primary competition while clubs like the Rangers, Giants, and Angels could get seriously involved as well. Pretty much every team will at least check in since it costs nothing to talk. The $20M release fee will not count against the luxury tax but Tanaka’s eventual contract, which could top six years and $100M, will. That hurts every big market team but especially the Yankees and Dodgers, who figure to be over the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014.

The pitching market has been handcuffed in recent weeks due to the Tanaka indecision. Interest in guys like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana has been minimal as clubs waited to see if Rakuten will post their ace simply because they want to do their due diligence and look at all available options. The pitching market as a whole should pick up now but the Yankees are expected to focus primarily on Tanaka. If they don’t land him, I don’t think it will be because they made a low-ball contract offer. They’re going to be serious players for him.

Via Sponichi (translated by Yakyu Baka): Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana says the team is “still undecided” about whether to post Masahiro Tanaka this winter. They’re still discussing matters with their ace right-hander and there is no timetable for a decision.

A report floating around earlier today indicated Tanaka would not be posted, but it appears that was a game of telephone gone wrong. It was a report referencing reports from Japan, reports no one can seem to find. Rakuten is said to be willing to make Tanaka the highest paid player in NPB history at roughly $8M next season, but that’s still only about half what he’d earn by coming to MLB. So, anyway, there is still nothing to report about Tanaka’s availability. The pitching market is in a holding pattern until there is some resolution.

(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.

After several weeks of haggling, MLB and NPB have officially announced the new posting system agreement. It’s a three-year deal. The new system does not include a bidding process, the NPB team simply sets a “release fee” of up to $20M for the player, and any team willing to pay the fee can negotiate with him. Only the team that signs the player has to pay the fee. The details are here.

Now that the new system is in place, the Rakuten Golden Eagles can finally post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. There is no guarantee they will do that, however. The $20M maximum release fee is less than half of what they were expecting under the old system. At the Winter Meetings last week, the Rakuten team president said he will speak to Tanaka this week before determining whether to post him. They will reportedly try to convince him to remain in Japan for another season after helping the team win a championship in 2013.

Update: This Sanspo report (translated article) says Tanaka will be posted, but nothing is official yet. We should know soon either way.

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Wednesday: According to Sanspo (translated article), NPB is likely to accept the proposal, which includes a maximum bid of only $20M. The player will be allowed to negotiate with every team who submits a max bid, creating almost a true free agency. I’m surprised NPB agreed to such a low max bid amount, and, unsurprisingly, Rakuten was the one team to fight the proposal. They want as much as possible for Tanaka.

Monday: According to multiple reports, MLB’s latest proposal regarding the posting system includes placing a limit on the size of bids. If more than one team places the maximum bid, either the player will choose who to negotiate with or his rights go to the team with the worst record in the previous season, depending on who you ask. Conflicting reports out there about that part.

Jon Morosi says a new posting agreement is not imminent, but the two sides are talking. MLB yanked their previous proposal a few weeks ago because they felt NPB was dragging its feet and slowing down the process. There is no timetable or deadline for an agreement. Nothing like that is in place far as we know. Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka can not be posted until a new posting agreement is in place and he is the Yankees’ primary pitching target, reportedly. Not sure how long they can wait around for this to be resolved.

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Via Jon Heyman: Officials from NPB traveled to the United States this week to discuss changes to the posting system face-to-face with the folks at MLB. They spoke today and are expected to do so again tomorrow, reports Joel Sherman. There is “renewed hope” an agreement will be reached but it is far from a sure thing. The Japanese players’ union agreed to a revised system earlier this month, but MLB withdrew the proposal because NPB took too long to review. Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka can not be posted until the two sides hammer this thing out.

In other news, Sang-Soo Kwon reports Samsung Lions closer Seung-Hwan Oh will join the Hanshin Tigers in Japan on a two-year, $8.9M contract. The best closer in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization was considering jumping to MLB via the posting system — the posting agreement with Korea is still valid, only Japan is an issue at the moment — but he apparently decided to head to Japan instead. The Yankees, who are in the market for late-inning bullpen help, were said to be among the teams scouting Oh.

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Late addition: After talking about this with a few people, thinking about it some more, and reading the comments, it strikes me that perhaps Rosenthal misheard or misinterpreted the information. Even using the high-end signing figures the Yanks are just barely over that 5 percent threshold. Given the significant penalty for going even that fraction over, I find it hard to believe that they made such an error. Mistakes are made, of course, and it’s possible, but at this point I’m more apt to believe that they are still within the zero to 5 tier, and thus accrue only a tax on the overage rather than a restriction on players they can sign in the upcoming international signing period.

Furthermore, Rosenthal states that the “Cubs and Rangers went over the limit in 2012-13,” when in fact the Cubs and the Rangers are both over their limit in the current signing period, which is 2013-2014 (seeing as it started July 2, 2013 and extends into 2014). From what I’ve read, the Rays were the only team to exceed their international pool allotment in 2012-2013.

It would appear, then, that the Yankees’ plans to spend big in the international market concern this coming year’s class, which will open for business on July 2, 2014. The Yankees will have a larger pool of money this year, since they finished lower, but that won’t change the equation too much; last year, as the No. 28 team, they got less than $200K less than the No. 18 team. But the new period does give them a fresh crop of talent, and if they don’t care about the penalties they can spend as much as they’d like. Given the facts and the implications, this seems far, far more likely than them spending further money during the current period.

Original. One signature element of the current CBA is the restriction placed on almost all forms of amateur player acquisition. In both the Rule 4 draft and the international signing period, teams have limited pools of money at their disposals. Exceeding those limits incurs penalties that affect teams the following year, thereby discouraging lavish spending in any single draft or signing period. There’s even talk of an international draft, which would further limit teams in acquiring talent.*

*Really, it’s just one more way MLB strives for boring parity, rewarding bad teams with enormous talent opportunities, both in available dollars and preferred selection. But I digress.

Teams can create advantages for themselves, given the right circumstances and conditions. For example, if a team feels the current international class is strong and the next is weak, it can splurge before facing the heavy restrictions the following signing period. It appears the Yankees will take that path this year. They’ve already exceeded their $1.8 million international cap, signing CF Leonardo Molina for $1.4 million and SS Yonarius Rodriguez for $575,000. According to a recent bit by Ken Rosenthal, they’re not quite done yet.

According to Rosenthal, the Yankees are just 3.8 percent over their capped limit, but he also has the Rodriguez signing at $550,000. MLB Trade Rumors, which has the Rodriguez bonus at $575,000, notes that figure puts the Yankees more than 5 percent over the cap, therefore already inducing penalties. In that case they won’t be able to sign any player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period, which, given the two bonuses given to their signings this year, is a major impediment. The same penalty, with a greater tax on overages, is in place for the 10 to 15 percent bracket. That essentially means that as long as they can stomach the 100 percent tax on overages, there is no reason to sit at 5.1 percent over the cap. You might as well go all the way to 14.9 percent. Spending that exceeds 15 percent over pool dollars limits a team to $250,000 on a single player during the next signing period.

The question is of how the Yankees are going to spend this money. All of Baseball America’s Top 30 international prospects have signed. There could be a number of players with whom they have experience and who might have flown under BA’s radar. Even in that case, the Yankees don’t have a whole lot of bonus money within that 15 percent threshold; just under $200,000, to be exact. So in order to make an impact, they might have to go over 15 percent and further limit themselves for the upcoming signing period.

Or it could all be hooey. Rosenthal cites “rival international scouts,” and rival scouts have agendas. At the same time, if the Yankees are in fact over the 5 percent penalty, they might as well go hog wild. The rules make very little distinction between a 5.1 percent and a 14.9 percent overage.

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2:22pm: Intrigue! MLB COO Rob Manfred told reporters at the GM Meetings that the league plans to change its proposal after NPB dragged its feet. “We warned them, told them, if this sat too long, there could be shifting winds out there. And suffice it to say, there have been shifting winds,” he said. There’s a chance there will be no agreement this winter, meaning Tanaka can not be posted. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.

Thursday, 8:45am: According to The Japan Times, the players’ union in Japan has formally agreed to the revisions and NPB is expected to approve the new posting system on Monday. Tanaka and other players could start being posted as soon as next Wednesday. Under the new system, the final posting fee is an average of the top two bids. That’s the only change as far as I can tell.

Tuesday: Via Ken Davidoff: MLB and NPB have “virtually agreed” to a revised posting system and an official announcement could be made soon, possibly as soon as today. The Rakuten Golden Eagles are expected to post ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka shortly thereafter. The Yankees will reportedly pursue him very aggressively, so the sooner the agreement gets done and they can move forward with their offseason plan, the better.

Under the revised posting system, the high bidder still wins exclusive negotiating rights to the player. However, the final posting fee is now the average of the top two bids. So if the Yankees win Tanaka’s rights with a $100M bid and another team finishes second with a $50M bid, New York will only pay $75M. This gives teams some protection against a Yu Darvish situation (the Rangers outbid everyone by $25M or so). It’s also possible the winning team will still have to pay a percentage of the posting fee if they fail to sign the player, which will help deter clubs with no sincere interest from placing high bids just to block rivals. Makes sense, now wrap this up and let’s move on.

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