In a bit of a surprise move on Tuesday night, the Rakuten Eagles announced they will post their stud starting pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, for the $20 million posting fee. This means that any Major League team willing to give Rakuten $20 million will be able to negotiate with Tanaka, the 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Eagles last season.
Tanaka is seen as a #2-type starter in the Majors, a step below Yu Darvish, but still a solid starting rotation piece. He is highly sought after by teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and others, both because of his youth and the less-than-appealing starter options still available on the free agent market.
The move to post Tanaka was a bit of a surprise. Earlier last week, it was reported Rakuten would not post Tanaka, upset at the new posting rules agreed to by Major League baseball and Japanese baseball officials. Previously, teams would submit blind bids to the posting team, with the team submitting the highest bid getting exclusive negotiating rights for that player.
The new rules mean teams will be paying far fewer dollars in the posting process (which does not count against the luxury tax) and more dollars in overall salary (which does count against the tax).
Meaning, for teams like the Phillies who are on a budget, signing Tanaka won't be the deal that it once appeared it would be.
One exec last week said he believes Tanaka will get a deal in the $150m range. Also: Wonder how Yu Darvish will feel about the new system?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 25, 2013
Remember:Darvish got $56m over 6 years under the old system, and is one of the best pitchers in MLB. Tanaka expected to get well over $100m.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 25, 2013
A $150 million contract simply doesn't seem to be something the Phillies are willing to do right now. It wouldn't be surprising at all if the Phils didn't even bother posting the $20 million, knowing they don't have the stomach to compete with Los Angeles, Boston and New York for Tanaka's services.
And while signing Tanaka to a $150 million contract could be seen as a move for the future (given that he's only 25), there is some risk. Pitchers like Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda are the rare Japanese pitchers to have success in the Majors. Many times in the past, Japanese pitchers have failed to live up to expectations.
In 2007, the Red Sox spent $103 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka. That didn’t work out. Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Hideki Irabu were other high-profile, former-Nippon Pro Baseball hurlers to flame out in the Majors. And none of those guys required a $150 million commitment.
However, if the Phillies are going to make a big splash this off-season, this is probably the smartest move they could make. At just 25 years old, the Phils could argue that not only are they making their rotation better now, they're also making it better for when the new talent is hopefully ready to compete.
Of course, Tanaka would have to want to sign with Philadelphia. One would think he would prefer to play in larger markets that could reach out to their Japanese population and make him an international brand, rather than in Philadelphia, where the Phils look to be a team that is just beginning their re-tooling phase.
Nevertheless, the Phillies lose nothing by posting $20 million for the chance to negotiate with Tanaka. Everyone knows that, when Ruben Amaro has set out to get a player he really wants, he usually gets him. And if the Phils don't sign him, they get their $20 million back, so they risk nothing by posting the money.
Still, the chances that Tanaka is pitching in a Phillies uniform next year are slim to none.
So, don't get your hopes up.