Carig: Yankeees have already been in contact with Tanaka’s agent

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.

Rakuten Golden Eagles will post Masahiro Tanaka

(AP)
(AP)

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:

Yr Age Tm W L ERA GS CG IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
’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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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.

Report: Rakuten “still undecided” about posting Tanaka

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.

Sizing up the competition for Masahiro Tanaka

(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.

2013 Winter Meetings Day Four Open Thread

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The final day of the lamest Winter Meetings I can remember is upon us. The Rule 5 Draft starts the day — J.J. Cooper has a preview, including notes on several Yankees farmhands who figure to be selected — but the Yankees do not have an open 40-man roster, so they won’t be able to make a pick. Clubs and their executives tend to leave around midday Thursday, so don’t expect there to be many rumors or transactions in the afternoon. For shame.

Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. Late last night we learned the Yankees rejected a Brett Gardner-for-Brandon Phillips trade offer from the Reds, who are looking to unload their second baseman and the $50M left on his contract. We’re going to keep track of Thursday’s worthwhile rumors right here. All times are ET.

  • 9:26pm: The Yankees were involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before he was dealt to the Rockies. [Susan Slusser]
  • 5:31pm: While talking to Johan Santana’s agent, Brian Cashman showed some interest in hard-throwing but not-always-strike-throwing reliever Henry Rodriguez. [David Waldstein]
  • 5:28pm: The Yankees made their offer to Infante after Robinson Cano agreed to sign with the Mariners and before the Winter Meetings, which basically means last weekend. [Olney]
  • 2:49pm: Apparently there was a three way trade being discussed involving Gardner, Justin Masterson, and Didi Gregorius. Gardner would have wound up with the Indians, Masterson with the Diamondbacks, and Gregorius with the Yankees. Huh. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 1:10pm: Mark Ellis is “on the radar” as an Infante alternative for the Yankees. I looked at him as a possible target yesterday. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: The team’s offer to Infante is in the three-year, $24M range. He’s seeking four years and $40M. [Sherman]
  • 12:09pm: The Yankees have offered Omar Infante a three-year contract. He is still holding out for a fourth year. The Royals are in the mix as well. [Jon Heyman]
  • 9:00am: Future talks about Gardner and Phillips could be expanded to include other players, but the Yankees have essentially told teams they will only trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. They listened on Phillips out of due diligence. [C. Trent Rosecrans & Joel Sherman]
  • Masahiro Tanaka remains the team’s top pitching priority. The new posting system is expected to be ratified soon but it’ll probably be another week or so before we find out whether Tanaka will actually be posted. Maybe longer. [George King]
  • The Yankees are one of Joaquin Benoit’s likeliest destinations along with the Indians, Padres, Mariners, and Cubs. He’s seeking $7-10M annually across multiple years. Matt looked at Benoit as a free agent target earlier this week. [Jeff Passan & Buster Olney]
  • While talking to reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said the pool of available of second baseman is “deeper” than it is at third. He also said he has not spoken to a bullpen candidate who demanded the closer’s job. [Chad Jennings]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yanks could pass on the top free agent pitchers now and look for better next winter

Is a Garza now worth a shot at a Kershaw later? (Getty)
Garza now or maybe a shot at Kershaw later? (Getty)

Six years ago, the Yankees took one of the biggest risks in franchise history. The Twins were shopping two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana one year before free agency and he was a perfect fit for the Yankees, a team in need of a workhorse ace left-hander. There were offers and counteroffers, a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox, and weeks of rumors. It was exhausting, really.

Santana was a perfect fit for the Yankees … except that he wasn’t. Not only would they have had to trade away some of their top prospects to acquire him, but they’d also would have had to give him a nine-figure contract extension to keep him around. Johan was also showing some signs of decline, particularly in his spiking homerun rate and sudden decreased usage of his slider. There were definite red flags. It was a risky move but the type of move the Yankees usually make, except this time they didn’t. They passed on Santana and off he went to the Mets for a mostly forgettable four-player package.

The Yankees passed on Santana for two reasons. One, they wanted to keep their young pitching. Given the state of the franchise at the time, it was the right move. Two, there was a better option coming along the next offseason. CC Sabathia, another Cy Young winning workhorse left-hander, was due to become a free agent following the 2008 season, when New York could acquire him for nothing but money (and a draft pick). It was an incredibly risky move because there was no guarantee Sabathia would actually hit the open market, but the Yankees rolled the dice and a year later they got their man. They kept their young starters and got their ace lefty. Santana, meanwhile, gave the Mets one Cy Young caliber season before starting to break down. The plan couldn’t have worked out much better for the Yankees.

Fast forward to present day, and the Yankees are in a bit of a similar situation. No, they aren’t trying to trade for a Cy Young winning ace southpaw (that would be David Price), but they are in the market for pitching and there are some pricey options sitting out there for the taking, namely Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana. Those are the three best free agent starters available right now while Masahiro Tanaka sits in posting system limbo. And you know what? None of those three guys is a slam dunk, we gotta have him starter. Jimenez was awful as recently as the All-Star break, Garza has been hurt the last two years, and Santana was awful in 2012. The track records are as sketchy as they get for a high-priced starter.

Those are the top free agent pitchers available right now, with Hiroki Kuroda off the board and Tanaka not yet available. Now, courtesy of MLBTR, here is a sampling of the hurlers scheduled to hit the open market one year from now, during the 2014-2015 offseason (2015 season age in parenthesis):

Homer Bailey (29)
Clayton Kershaw (27)
Jon Lester (31)
Justin Masterson (30)
Max Scherzer (30)
James Shields (33)

Those are six pretty great pitchers, right? Just about all of them are reasonably young too. I’d rather have any of those six over Ubaldo or Garza or Santana, that’s for sure. Obviously those guys could sign extensions between now and next winter — Kershaw, Scherzer, and Lester seem most likely to ink an extension at this time — but there’s just so many of them that one or two figures to slip through the cracks and be available next offseason.

If Tanaka doesn’t get posted — I still think they should go all out to land him if he does indeed become available at some point — I think the Yankees would be better off repeating their Santana-Sabathia strategy. Rather than pay for an imperfect solution like Garza or Ubaldo or Santana right now, they could sign a stopgap starter (Bartolo?) for this year before going hard after one (or maybe even two) of those top guys next winter. They’ll want to have as much money available as possible if, say, Kershaw and Scherzer hit free agency next winter. Or Bailey and Masterson. Or Lester and Shields. You get the point. A stray Ubaldo could gum up the works.

Would this plan be risky? Absolutely. There’s a chance all of them will sign extensions before free agency and the Yankees will be left out in the pitching cold. Is it worth the risk? I think it is when there are six (not one or two) of these guys and the alternatives are Garza, Jimenez, and Santana. That’s easy for me to say when my neck isn’t on the line, obviously. It could be that the Santana-Sabathia situation was a one-time thing the Yankees are not willing to risk again, but because they took that risk once before and it worked out so wonderfully, we kinda have to assume it isn’t completely off the table in the future. If Tanaka is not posted, the Yankees’ best course of action maybe be signing a stopgap starter and focusing on those premium arms slated to hit the market next winter.

Despite posting system changes, Tanaka remains best pitching option for Yankees

(Adam Pretty/Getty)
(Adam Pretty/Getty)

At some point very soon, MLB and NPB are expected to finalize a new posting agreement allowing Japanese players to come across the pond prior to qualifying for international free agency. Reports indicate the maximum allowable bid will be $20M, and any team who bids the max will be allowed to negotiate with the player. It’s a really crummy deal for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who were surely expecting $50M+ for ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this winter.

The new system essentially creates true free agency with a $20M tax. Only the team who signs the player has to pay the posting fee, so there’s really no reason for any team not to submit a max bid for a player like Tanaka. There’s always a chance he shows up to negotiations and says “You know, I’ve always wanted to pitch in Denver” or something like that. For small market teams who can’t afford a player like Tanaka, such as the Rays or Padres or Athletics, there is some value in simply throwing your hat in the ring and making things slightly more difficult for your rivals.

For the Yankees, the new system makes Tanaka less desirable from a financial standpoint. That goes for all big market teams, really. The posting fee does not count against the luxury tax, so New York could have submitted a huge bid, then signed Tanaka to a below market contract (which does count against the luxury tax) because they had exclusive negotiating rights. The setup was great even if the Yankees weren’t trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Now the posting fee will be relatively small and the contract much larger because the player will be on the open market.

As far as the luxury tax goes, the new system does hurt the Yankees. That said, Tanaka remains the best pitcher available this winter, at least in some ways. If you’re looking to maximize 2014 impact, guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Bartolo Colon and Matt Garza are probably better bets. That first year always seems to be something of an adjustment period for Japanese hurlers. Long-term, the just-turned-25-year-old Tanaka seems like a better investment than the 30-year-old Garza and the soon-to-be 30-year-old (and spectacularly inconsistent) Ubaldo Jimenez, assuming he’s as good as everyone says he is. Plus he won’t cost a draft pick (Garza won’t, Ubaldo will).

The Yankees were expected to make a very hard push for Tanaka before the posting system changes, so they obviously like him and think he can handle the transition into the AL East and a tiny home ballpark. The favorable contract and luxury tax system really made him a perfect fit. Does the new system change that? It doesn’t change Tanaka as a pitcher, it just means he’ll be more expensive if they go over the luxury tax threshold. The new system figures to actually lower the total cost — $70M posting fee plus $50M contract under the old system vs. $20M posting fee plus $80M contract under the new system, sound about right? — it just gives the majority of the money to the player rather than his former team in Japan.

The Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Rangers, Angels, and Mariners were expected to be in on Tanaka before the posting system changes and I assume they will remain serious bidders. I’m sure teams like the Orioles and Diamondbacks will submit max bids, but when push comes to shove, they don’t stand much of a chance when it comes to offering a competitive contract. Wooing Tanaka will not be easy for the Yankees even if they throw a ton of money at him. I think the Dodgers are a very real threat because, in addition to all their money, there’s a big Japanese community in Los Angeles and the travel back to Japan is way easier. Same goes for Seattle. If Tanaka is all about the money and will go to whichever team offers the most, the Yankees are in better shape to land him. They have every reason to overpay for guys right now.

Under the old posting system, Tanaka was a near perfect fit for New York. He was luxury tax friendly and, more importantly, they can really use a high-end 25-year-old starter. The plan to get under the luxury tax threshold was predicated on a young rotation built around Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Manny Banuelos, but that hasn’t materialized for many reasons. Under the new posting system, Tanaka remains just as good a fit on the field but won’t come with the same luxury tax friendly cost. He is still the best available pitcher on the market and the Yankees should still make a very strong push to land him, it’ll just be much more difficult now.

Update: Jerry Crasnick reports Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said the team may simply hold onto Tanaka rather than pawn him off for $20M. “We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it’s fair. There’s a possibility we won’t take the next step,” he said. They could hold onto him for a year and post him next year if the posting agreement changes again.