Let the Bidding Begin: MLB Teams Seek Japanese Phenom

Let the Bidding Begin: MLB Teams Seek Japanese Phenom

Major League Baseball’s thirty teams have the opportunity to bid for the services of a player not now or ever on any MLB roster: a durable starting pitcher coming off a no-loss season.

Masahiro Tanaka may prove to be the most popular Japanese export since the Walkman–or the biggest bust since Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The twenty-five-year old led the Rakuten Golden Eagles to a championship, claimed Nippon Professional Baseball’s Sawamura Award, the Japanese version of a Cy Young, and posted a 24-0 record during the 2013 season. Counting the postseason, Tanaka won 30 games in 2012 and lost none. He allowed just 32 walks in 212 regular-season innings pitched. His earned-run average stood at a stingy 1.27.

The posting period starts today and ends on January 24. MLB teams notify the NPB team of a willingness to pay them $20 million should they sign Tanaka. Those teams can then make the pitcher an offer. The fee will be collected by the Golden Eagles only from the team that ultimately signs Tanaka. If Tanaka can’t come to an agreement with an MLB team, his rights revert back to his Japanese club.

Tanaka, who is a star in his homeland and married to a Japanese pop singer, won’t come cheap. He recently hired Derek Jeter’s agent Casey Close, and figures to receive offers from the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and numerous other big-market franchises. The highest bid by an MLB club for an NPB player remains the $52 million that the Texas Rangers posted for Yu Darvish prior to the 2012 season.

The new agreement between MLB and NPB, announced ten days ago, limits bids to $20 million. This presumably will encourage more bidders and drive up player contracts. Less money to the Japanese team will likely mean more money for the Japanese player. Under the old system, for instance, the Rangers paid out about $112 million for Darvish–$60 million over six years to the player and a $52 million bid to his former club.

“He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower,” one scout told the New York Post of Tanaka this fall. “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.” The six-foot-two right hander boasts a 99-35 record with a 2.30 earned-run average over seven seasons in NPB.