The Latest on Tanaka and the Posting System

For the first time since August 2012, Masahiro Tanaka took a loss on Saturday. The Rakuten Golden Eagles ace allowed four runs on 12 hits and one walk while striking out seven against the Yomiuri Giants in the biggest game of his career — it forced a Game Seven in the Japan Series. Tanaka threw 160 pitches in his fourth complete game in five postseason starts. Those workloads are fairly common in Japan, where they pitch once a week rather than once every five days. His 30-start unbeaten streak came to an end and is the longest in the professional baseball history (by six!).

Update: Tanaka came out of the bullpen and threw 15 pitches to get the save in Game Seven on Sunday. It’s considered an honor for the team’s best pitcher to record the final out of the series in Japan, which is why he was used on zero days’ rest.

The Golden Eagles are expected to post Tanaka after the postseason and the Yankees “are going to be serious players” for the right-hander, who turned 25 on Friday. Jeff Passan posted an update on Tanaka and the reportedly forthcoming revisions to the posting system, so let’s round it up:

  • With teams having few places to spend money, Tanaka is expected to be the most expensive international import in baseball history. Several executives said they expect the posting fee, which won’t count towards the luxury tax, the be in the $75-100M range. The $51.7M posting fee the Rangers paid for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish is the current record.
  • Tanaka doesn’t have an agent right now. He’s been focused on the playoffs and isn’t sorting through candidates. The timetable for picking a representative is unclear but it’s been speculated he has an agreement with an agent already in place. Obviously he needs to get that figured out before being posted.
  • Progress regarding the posting system changes has been slow because MLB wants to figure out a way to keep down posting fees. Haggling will delay the agreement, which means Tanaka may not be posted anytime soon even though the postseason is a few days from ending.
  • One proposal suggested the winning team would not have to pay the full amount of their bid. Instead, they would find a point midway between the high bid and second highest bid and instead pay that. The Rangers outbid everyone by roughly $20M for Darvish and clubs want some protection in case something like that happens again.

Marchand: Yankees could go on $300M spending spree this offseason

(AP)
(AP)

Depending on how you work the math and whether Alex Rodriguez gets suspended for part or all of next season, the Yankees will have something like $65-90M to work with under that $189M luxury tax threshold this offseason. Derek Jeter‘s player option and various arbitration raises will change things as well. Either way, the Bombers are going to have some money to spend this offseason, and Andrew Marchand reports a massive shopping spree may in the works. To the block text:

[The] front office is devising a plan that could have the team going on a $300 million shopping spree, sources have told ESPNNewYork.com.

The Yankees will begin their organization meetings Monday where they will settle on a strategy that they believe can cut payroll to $189 million while spending big on free agents.

The Yankees’ initial main targets are expected to include their own Robinson Cano, Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, according to sources.

The Yankees think they can add at least two top free agents this winter and remain under team owner Hal Steinbrenner‘s goal of reducing total salaries to less than $189 million. Steinbrenner has said he would like to reduce the team’s luxury tax and revenue sharing numbers so that he can reinvest the money instead of paying out to smaller markets.

Just spitballing some average annual values/luxury tax hits, I think those four will wind up around $23M (Cano), $15M (McCann), $14M (Beltran), and $12M (Tanaka) next year. I think those are in the ballpark. The market is kinda crazy though — teams have a lot of money to spend and nowhere to spend it, so free agents are making huge bucks — meaning all four guys could wind up with more. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s what they get.

In that case, those four will combine for $64M next year, taking a huge bite out of that $65-90M pool of leftover cash. There is no doubt in my mind adding Tanaka, Beltran, and McCann to Cano and everyone else under contract/team control improves the team, but the Yankees would still have a lot of holes to fill. They’d need another starting pitcher (unless you’re particularly high on Vidal Nuno, Michael Pineda, and/or Adam Warren), a left-side-of-the-infielder, a DH, at least one and preferably two (ideally three) relievers, and a bench. On top of all of that, the team would need to set some cash aside for midseason additions, both call-ups and help at the trade deadline. They can’t have a $188.9M payroll on Opening Day. It won’t work.

If the Yankees do go on a huge spending spree this winter, I have very little doubt it would be about improving attendance and ratings as much as it would improving the team’s chances of contention. Given their 2013 Pythag. record (79-83) and the players they’re presumably losing this winter (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, specifically), the Yankees need to add about 20 wins worth of talent to the roster this offseason even after re-signing Cano. Beltran, McCann, and Tanaka won’t add that themselves — I’d be happy if they got 12 wins out of the trio next year — so the team either needs to blow past the $189M threshold to contend or hope guys like Jeter, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Mark Teixeira, David Phelps, and Alfonso Soriano improve their performance in 2014.

Handing out $300M worth of contracts this winter would absolutely qualify as a huge splash and almost certainly improve the team, but it’s probably not enough to get the Yankees back in the postseason if the money goes to those four players and those four players alone. The Bombers are not one, two, or even four players away right now. They need a lot of help.

King: Yankees “are going to be serious players” for Masahiro Tanaka

Via George King: Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka “is a priority” for the Yankees this winter, and they “are going to be serious players” in the posting process. “He is better than [Yu Darvish] because he is a strike thrower,’’ said one overly-enthusiastic scout. “Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like [Hiroki Kuroda], he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.’’

Tanaka, 25 next month, had a 1.24 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 181 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He is indeed expected to be posted this winter. The Yankees have been scouting him quite a bit in recent weeks, most notably sending assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu to see him. King spoke to several executives who expect the bidding to approach $60M, which would be a record. Only the contract, not the posting fee, would count against the luxury tax. The Yankees have shied away from Japanese players (via the posting process) since the Kei Igawa disaster, so bidding big on Tanaka would be a big chance of pace.

Masahiro Tanaka and the quest for 2014 pitching

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Mike has kept us informed on the Masahiro Tanaka front over the past few weeks. At this point, it certainly seems as though the team is doing its due diligence and is at least showing some degree of interest, though who knows if it’ll materialize into anything in the offseason. The Yankees have sent their assistant GM, Billy Eppler, along with special assignment scout (and former Mariners manager/Blue Jays bench coach/MLB player), Don Wakamatsu, to go and check him out. I’m sure New York has a bevy of other scouts who have followed Tanaka’s career as well. Whether the team should pursue Tanaka is a difficult question, but one worth asking. Let’s take a look.

Does Tanaka satisfy a need?

Obviously, the Yankees have a lot of question marks surrounding the 2014 rotation. Who knows whether CC Sabathia can become a solid pitcher again, nevermind a top of the rotation arm. Who knows if Andy Pettitte or Hiroki Kuroda plan on returning. Hell, who knows what Ivan Nova really is at this point. David Phelps and Michael Pineda provide zero certainty as well. Phil Hughes will almost certainly be gone. Can the team promote from within sufficiently? Well, they can try, but color me unconvinced.

Point is, the Yankees need pitching heading into next season in a big way. Now the skeptic could rightfully ask, does it make sense to replace so many question marks with another question mark? To that I would reply: probably, since scouts seem to agree that Tanaka is MLB ready and capable of producing positively. Additionally, every potential pitcher replacement has some degree of inherent risk, so perhaps what we really should be asking is whether Tanaka is more of a question mark than some of the alternatives (i.e. Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum), and I don’t think that he necessarily is. As an aside, even after the presumably exorbitant posting fee and subsequent contract are offered, I’d still have to wonder if he would be a cheaper alternative than a “proven guy” like Matt Garza (who may not even be available anyway), which of course would be desirable if the $189M payroll is still the objective.

Does free agency offer anyone better?

With the exception of Matt Garza, the 2014 free agent crop of starting pitchers is pretty wanting. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez is available and maybe you can make the argument that he’s more desirable at this point (he’s pitched great for the Indians since the All-Star break and his strikeout rates are heading back in the right direction). I’m not sure I’m sold on Ubaldo though (admittedly, I’ve never been his biggest fan). You can bet Jon Lester will have his club option picked up. Ditto for James Shields. Halladay will be 37 years old with some major health concerns. I guess there’s Tim Lincecum if you believe that ship can be righted (though as I insinuated above, I think both he and Halladay have major red flags). I suppose Dan Haren (33) is an option too, though I have my doubts about his health and skill set (talk about home run prone!). We talk about assuming risk. Well, prepare to assume a fair amount with all these guys.

Will Tanaka’s skill set hold up in the Majors?

That’s the key question, isn’t it? I’ll defer you to Mike’s scouting report from the other day for the details, but to put it succinctly, if Tanaka can become a number two type of arm at the MLB level immediately — which is apparently the consensus among scouts at this point – he’d be a major boost to any team, including New York. Is he Yu Darvish? No. Will he ever be? Probably not. Should that matter? I don’t think so. Most pitchers don’t wind up being one of the league’s best. Above average pitchers still have a lot of value though, and we’ve seen what happens to the bullpen (and record, ultimately) when one guy pitches great but is followed by a bunch of poor starts.

Are the Yankees leery of signing pitchers from Japan?

Unfortunately for Yankee fans, we’re all aware of this perception. Once upon a time, the Red Sox signed a supposed hot-shot pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka, while the Yankees paid a ton of cash for notable “other guy,” Kei Igawa. Obviously, neither contract worked out, though it’s clear that the Yanks hired the bigger bust. Then Darvish came along with impressive stuff. Everyone knew about the hype. The Rangers blew all the other organizations away with their bid while the Yankees posted a very conservative offer that was basically expected to fall short from the start. Apparently, this was partially due to the team’s experience with Igawa. So, here we are. The Rangers have a certifiable ace on their hands. The Yankees have a reputation of being scared of players from Japan (whether it’s justifiable or not). To wit, the Yanks also posted a conservative bid for Hyun-Jin Ryu ( though he was coming from South Korea).

I would hope the team could look at these players independently, and then assess whether they can be successful at the big league level. Avoiding talent because Igawa didn’t work out would not only be myopic, but just plain dumb. This needs to be a case-by-case decision. If Tanaka is MLB capable, he should be considered accordingly, period. If this is a question of Yankees scouting misreading talent (relative to their competition), that’s an entirely different problem and one that should be addressed immediately. That all said, I think there may be some degree of truth to the theory that the organization is worried about being burnt by an aggressive bid for one of these guys after the Igawa fiasco.

How much will Tanaka cost?

Total cop out answer: it depends, really. It’s a closed auction, so things have a tendency to get out of control pretty quickly. The Rangers won the Darvish bid at $51.7M. The Sox bid approximately $51.1M for the rights to talk with Dice-K. Last season, Ryu’s posting bid was roughly $25.7M. Tanaka is presumably not as good as Darvish, so maybe he winds up costing less. On the other hand, maybe teams are desperate for pitching and see him as someone at least comparable to Ryu, or maybe they even consider him more of a “sure thing” than Ryu. If I had to guess, I’d say the winning bid is about $40M.

From there, you then get to talk about player contracts. Darvish received a six-year, $56M contract which includes a player opt-out clause after the fifth year. It was a lot of money, but I think at this point, the Rangers are probably considering the contract a success in terms of production provided relative to the cost (at least so far). The Sox offered a six-year, $52M deal to Dice-K, which was a disaster. Ryu was also given a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $36M by the Dodgers. I suspect Tanaka will wind up closer to Darvish’s end of the spectrum than Ryu’s though. That means probably six years at approximately $7-8M per. In any event, when you consider what Garza will probably get, I think that a guy like Tanaka might make a ton of sense.

Badler: Yankees had scout(s) on hand for Tanaka’s most recent start

Via Ben Balder (subs. req’d): The Yankees were one of five teams with scouts on hand to watch right-hander Masahiro Tanaka make his most recent start for the Rakuten Golden Eagles over the weekend. The Braves, Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Red Sox were also in attendance. We recently heard the Yankees have had assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu watch the righty.

Tanaka, 24, threw 128 pitches while striking out eleven and allowing two runs in the complete game win. “After lacking the typical crispness on his pitches in his previous outing, Tanaka returned to the mound on Friday with a swing-and-miss fastball and excellent splitter against the Fighters,” wrote Badler, who said Tanaka was sitting 90-94 with his fastball and 84-89 with the splitter. He also threw some sliders, though it is clearly his third pitch. Here are highlights from the game (Andruw Jones sighting!).

The Golden Eagles are expected to post Tanaka this winter and although the Yankees haven’t been all that aggressive on big money international players in recent years, they are clearly doing their homework. They’re going to need pitching this winter one way or the other and Tanaka could be a fit. He is the best pitcher in Japan but is not another Yu Darvish, and in fact there are concerns his fastball is too flat despite good velocity. Tanaka has a 1.24 ERA this year with an excellent walk rate (1.3 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%)) but just an okay strikeout rate (7.7 K/9 and 22.1 K%).

Update: Yankees have sent top evaluators to scout Masahiro Tanaka

September 2nd: Assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu both scouted Tanaka last week, report Mark Hale and George King. The Yankees have seen most of the right-hander’s starts this year. Seems like the team is really doing its homework after literally not knowing what pitches Kei Igawa threw after signing him.

August 21st: Via Ben Badler: The Yankees and Rangers have sent their top evaluators to scout Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka recently. Other clubs have watched him as well. We first heard New York had interest in Tanaka, who is expected to be posted after the season, back in May. Balder says MLB and NPB are discussing changes to the posting system — including placing a hard cap on the posting fee — but nothing is final.

Tanaka, 24, has a 1.20 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 158 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., and is said to sit in the low-90s with a fastball that touches 96. Badler says scouts have some concern because he doesn’t get good plane on the pitch and it’s more hittable than the velocity suggests. Tanaka also throws a low-80s slider and a mid-80s splitter, like many Asian pitchers. He has been one of the league’s best pitchers for years now. Here’s video.

Tanaka is not as good as Yu Darvish, but Badler says “scouts project (him) as a potential No. 2 starter who can immediately step into a Major League rotation.” The Yankees have been very shy when it comes to bidding on big money international free agents after getting burned by Kei Igawa, but they could always change their approach at a moment’s notice. They will need some starters going forward, that’s for sure. The posting fee doesn’t count against the luxury tax either, just the actual player contract.

Cafardo: Yankees among teams interested in Masahiro Tanaka

Via Nick Cafardo: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Danny Knobler recently reported the Rakuten Golden Eagles are expected to make their ace available via the posting system following this season.

Tanaka, 24, has pitched to a 2.08 ERA with a 45/9 K/BB in 52 innings across seven starts this year. Since the start of the 2010 season, he owns a 1.57 ERA with 9.1 K/9 (25.6 K%) and 2.0 BB/9 (3.1 BB%). One scout told Knobler that Tanaka has “a wipeout split-finger fastball” and “a good slider” to go with solid velocity, though it’s unclear if he can remain a starter long-term. He has missed time with shoulder issues (strains and inflammation, mostly) over the years.

The Yankees have shunned the Japanese pitching market since the Kei Igawa fiasco, and Brian Cashman explained why in a recent interview with Index Universe. They’re concerned about difference in pitching routines as well as the cultural adjustment. Tanaka is not Yu Darvish and frankly he’s not even Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he’s still someone worth keeping an eye on over the next several months. The Yankees can’t ignore Japanese pitchers forever.