After Major League Baseball ratified changes to the posting system a few weeks ago, putting a $20 million cap on what teams would have to pay a Nippon Professional Baseball team to acquire player, it was assumed that Rakuten might simply keep Tanaka for another season. Tanaka went 24-0 this season with a 1.27 ERA and was eligible for free agency in two years in the NPB. It seemed more beneficial to keep Tanaka for one more season and then post him after next season since the most they can make is $20 million. But they decided to honor the star pitcher’s wishes.
The new posting system benefits the player and mid-level major league teams. Now any team that pays a $20 million fee can negotiate with Tanaka for his services like a free agent. In past year it was different, teams would have to pay a massive posting fee for the exclusivity to negotiate with a posted player. For example, the Rangers paid Nippon a posting fee of just over $51 million for the rights to sign Yu Darvish. They then gave Darvish a 6-year, $56 million contract.
With Tanaka, it’s expected that several teams, including the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox will put up the $20 million in hopes of landing him (if a team does not sign him, they get the $20 million back).
In the past, the massive posting prices factored into how much a player was paid. It’s why Darvish’s contract is relatively low by some standards. Tanaka doesn’t have such limitations. ESPN’s Buster Olney speculated on Twitter that Tanaka would easily get over $100 million from a team.
So where does this leave the Mariners? They are interested in Tanaka. He’s a good pitcher – a fastball that can touch 97-98 and a splitfinger that is supposedly one of the best in the world. He’ll be only 25 years old this season. He doesn’t cost them a draft pick if they sign him. It makes baseball sense. There’s always been an assumption that the Mariners should be front runners on any and all Japanese players. I don’t know if I believe that as much anymore with the passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi. But Seattle is one of the closest MLB cities to Japan. The Mariners have had a presence in Japan because of Ichiro Suzuki. Now with Hisashi Iwakuma, a former teammate of Tanaka, there’s still that link.
But this could come down to money and years. All four teams mentioned above have money and resources to give him a contract over $100 million. The Mariners do have some money left. It’s possible to make it work. They would be pushed right up against the soft $100 million payroll budget, which we all are speculating. But general manager Jack Zduriencik has maintained that he could go to CEO Howard Lincoln and lobby to go over the yearly budget if an important player is available to them. Is Tanaka that player?
I expect the Mariners to enter the fray on Tanaka, but beyond that, it’s hard to predict what will happen. If anything, at least there is resolution to the situation. Most MLB teams had been waiting to find out what will happen with Tanaka first before committing any free agent dollars to pitchers like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. With a Feb. 1 deadline to sign Tanaka, we should at least have some movement in the free agent pitching market.