With the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball association finally in place, there is finally a new set of standards in place for passage of top professionals from Japan to the North American game. Rather than a blind bid, the Japanese side sets their “release fee” and any MLB team can meet it. The release fees can reach a maximum of $20 million USD, rather than the escalating blind binds of the previous agreement, resulting in astronomical fees for players like Yu Darvish – for whom Texas bid more than fifty million USD.
Any or all of the 30 MLB teams can the release fee, it is then up to the teams to work out a contract with the player. Only the “winning” team must pay the release fee, provided the player and MLB team are able to agree to terms within 30 days of the posting date. Whew.
No sooner was the ink dry on the fresh agreement before Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles told his team that he’d like to be posted and bring his talents to North America for the 2014 season. No more debate, no more hemming and hawing – Tanaka is coming and the interested teams must prepare their best offer if they hope to land the top Japanese pitcher since Darvish.
No guarantees, but now that the Eagles have met with Tanaka, I don't expect them to drag their feet on a decision. Will be a market changer.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) December 17, 2013
The inner-workings of Japanese baseball clubs aren’t of much interest to most baseball fans but this looks like a pretty big win for MLB owners, who keep their costs down and Japanese players, who will see a larger chunk of the cash exchanged in their name. But what does this mean for Masahiro Tanaka?
It means a significant payday, for one. Showing up when the remaining free agent pitching options are…less than desirable, Tanaka stands to earn a big time payday to bring his services to the US.
That is, of course, if his team chooses to post him. Despite Tanaka coming right out and saying he wants to ply his trade stateside, there is a minute chance they choose to keep their player in Japan for another year. While Eagles management claimed they would not stand in their pitcher’s way if he wants to leave, they obviously have a horse in this race. It seems the horse now has a more discreet prize tag than before, unfortunately for them. Early reports suggested other NPB teams might kick in some cash to help compensate Ratuken for this rare instance, whereas everyone stands to benefit from the new deal.
While the nebulous factors that may or may not keep Tanaka off U.S. soil in 2014, there are plenty of teams eagerly awaiting the news of his posting. There is a great deal of interest in a player who, while he perhaps isn’t the equal of Darvish, certainly looks like the kind of pitcher who can make a real impact at the big league level right away.
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has some nice gifs and looks at Tanaka’s stuff, mostly culled from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The splitter, the calling card of so many Japanese pitchers, is a major weapon for the 6’2 right-hander. His control in the NPB is pinpoint, though his strikeout rate has fallen over three consecutive seasons. Evaluating a foreign pitcher by his stats in an inferior league is a fools errand, of course. But thinking back to the some of the less-than-enthusiastic scouting reports on Yu Darvish (most of which could easily be brushed aside as gamesmanship in the negotiation, if one were so inclined.)
The Yankees have the need and the bucks to throw money at the Japanese right-hander. If Tanaka wants to challenge himself against the best, playing for the most storied franchise and taking on the defending World Series champs seems a great place to start.
In a way, the lower posting threshold widens the field, as only salary stands between team and player. Could a team like the Astros, with all their cheap talent, make a move for an elite talent to stabilize their big league product while their teeming farm begins rushing to the majors. Though given the choice, would a player in his peak volunteer for such a role with a team coming off their third consecutive 100-loss season?
Odds are good that Masahiro Tanaka will pitch in the Majors next year. He might even play for your team! It will be interesting to watch the fallout after his posting, how the market re-shapes after this deal passes and we wait for the Next Big Thing to come across the Pacific.