It has begun: MLB teams are now able to bid for Masahiro Tanaka. His claim to fame as a pitcher is his unhittable splitter, and his ability to throw a complete game. He threw 53 complete games and 18 shutouts during his time in the Japanese League.
On Thursday morning, all 30 major league teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign 25-year-old Tanaka had officially begun. Teams have until January 24th to attempt to reach an agreement with the ace from Japan.
Even though Tanaka's major league career is just beginning in the United States, the team that signs him will need to pay a heavy price tag. Not only will the team need to pay Tanaka's salary, but they will also need to pay his Japanese baseball club, the Rakuten Eagles. The bidding will be capped at $20 million USD due to a deal that was reached nearly two weeks ago by the MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball. Before the 2012 season, when there was no cap, the Texas Rangers agreed to a deal of $50 million USD just for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish. This new cap levels the playing field for teams that cannot afford a steep bid, in addition to paying a salary of multiple millions of dollars.
Excel Sports Management will be representing Tanaka throughout the process. Their other clients include Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter and Dodgers' pitcher Clayton Kershaw. As you can see from this video, Masahiro Tanaka is considered by many to be the best pitcher in Japan.
The Rakuten Eagles did everything they could to keep Tanaka, but eventually Eagles president Yozo Tachibana agreed that Tanaka deserved a chance to play in the majors. Tachibana also stated that during Tanaka's seven seasons with the Eagles he made an "outstanding contribution to the team." The Eagles are based in Sendai, a town still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Last year, Tanaka lead the team to its first league championship.
Of the team's decision to let him pursue a career in the MLB, Tanaka said, "I'm grateful to the team for allowing me to try. Now I've made a first step." He continued, "I hope I would receive offers from as many teams as possible so I have a wider option."
One team that is seriously considering Tanaka is the New York Yankees. Two of their top pitchers are soon to retire, and their other pitchers have produced mediocre results in the past few seasons. Other MLB teams that are interested in signing Tanaka include the Red Sox, Rangers, Mariners, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Angels. These teams, and others, want to mimic with Tanaka the success of Yu Darvish. The Yankees, however, have already made contact with Tanaka's agent.
If Tanaka is not signed within the 30 day time limit, he will not be available for signing again until next November.