After weeks of the Rakuten Golden Eagles wavering back and forth, it was decided on Tuesday evening that the team will post star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, allowing him to depart Japan for Major League Baseball. The news comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez, who used his translating skills to pass along a report from Sponichi in Japan.
Rakuten has had second thoughts about allowing Tanaka to leave due to a new set of posting system rules that were instituted this offseason. Though previously teams would bid for an exclusive rights window, any team bidding the maximum $20 million fee will have the right to negotiate with the Japanese Pacific League’s best pitcher.
Tanaka has been a key factor in the New York Yankees’ plans since the beginning of the offseason, but they will not be alone in trying to make him their newest stars. This new system will likely set off a bidding war between the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, while teams such as the Cubs, Rangers, and Diamondbacks could also be contenders. Despite never throwing a pitch in the Major Leagues, Tanaka figures to command at least a $100 million contract.
This comes due to Tanaka compiling a career 99-35 record, with an ERA of 2.30 in 1315 innings pitched. More impressively, Tanaka led Rakuten to a Nippon Professional Baseball championship this past season after pitching to a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings (27 starts). When those numbers are coupled with the fact that Tanaka will be just 25 years old on Opening Day, teams realize he could serve as the ace of their staff for many years to come.
The Yankees have tended to shy away from the Japanese pitching market after seeing Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa struggle horribly in their stints in the Bronx, but Tanaka appears to be different from past busts. However, it has been widely speculated that the 27-time World Champions would “break the bank” for a pitcher of this caliber if he were indeed posted. The team’s owner, Hal Steinbrenner, even seemed enamored with Tanaka, describing the pitcher as a “great, great catch” earlier this winter
That great catch likely will not be quite as good as Yu Darvish, the ace of the Texas Rangers’ staff, was when he left Japan. However, one scout believes Tanaka should have a larger impact than both Hiroki Kuroda and Daisuke Matsuzaka did when coming to the States for the first time. One scout told me that Tanaka has better command than Darvish, but is not as big a strikeout pitcher, while another indicated that Tanaka may have the best splitter in the world.
Tanaka will now be able to test that splitter against some of the best hitters in the world after winning a public tug-of-war with Rakuten’s management. After Darvish’s posting fee hit $51.7 million two years ago, Rakuten team president Yozo Tachibana initially balked at the idea of bidding being capped at $20 million for his star player. Rakuten was set to make Tanaka the highest-paid pitcher in Japanese history to stay, but ultimately gave into the player’s desire to cross the ocean in hopes of excelling.