The wait on the Rakuten Golden Eagles making Masahiro Tanaka available this winter ended on Thursday morning (7:00am CST) when MLB teams were officially informed Tanaka had been posted. The focus throughout the game quickly shifted to which team will be able to sign him and how much it will cost to land the 25-year old right hander. Teams that inform MLB and the NPB they are willing to pay the $20 million release fee to Rakuten, if they sign Tanaka, have until 4:00pm CST on January 24 to work out a deal with Masahiro Tanaka and his agent Casey Close. And look for the negotiations to last the entire 30 days as Casey Close tries to find the best deal, and team, for his newest client.
Gabe Kapler posted an excellent report on the bidding war that will take place over the next 30 days for Masahiro Tanaka. Kapler talked with one GM that expects Tanaka to sign a six-year, $105 million contract while Kapler thinks a contract for Tanaka could jump into the seven-year, $125 million range. Kapler spoke with an international scout “who suggested that the contract negotiations will start at six years and $100 million.”
The Yankees are widely viewed as the favorite to sign Masahiro Tanaka with every other interested team finishing a distant second in The Tanaka Sweepstakes. Multiple reports have suggested the Yankees are willing to sail past their self-imposed $189 million salary cap for next season in order to sign Tanaka. Plus, Brian Cashman and the front office will have a better idea of how much they can offer Tanaka once they find out how many games, if any, Alex Rodriguez will be suspended next season. The decision on Rodriguez is expected just after the first of the year and hopefully before the results of the 2014 Hall of Fame Class is announced on Jan. 8.
The Cubs are on a long list of teams that are thought to have interest in Tanaka. Along with the Yankees, the Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Red Sox, Phillies and Braves could be a part of, what has been labeled as the bidding war for Tanaka.
Bruce Levine and David Kaplan have reported the Cubs are all in on Masahiro Tanaka and will not be outbid in order to land him. The Cubs’ front office will have to sell him on pitching for the Cubs and not a team on the West Coast or the Yankees.
Joel Sherman posted a report on the eight teams that could challenge the Yankees for Masahiro Tanaka. The Dodgers, Angels and Red Sox topped his list followed by the Phillies, Rangers and then the Cubs. Sherman pointed out how good the position prospects are in the Cubs’ system as well as the Cubs’ need for pitching. Sherman sources expect the Cubs to be “significant bidders” for Tanaka.
Joel Sherman did not include the Mariners as one of the teams that could land Tanaka. Some question if Seattle has enough left in their payroll to sign Tanaka. As for the possibility of Tanaka signing with the Mariners, Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times acknowledged the signing of Robinson Cano might make Seattle more attractive to Tanaka. Coskrey pointed out Tanaka signing there would be “interesting” after he played second fiddle to Hisashi Iwakuma for the first several years of his career. Tanaka and Iwakuma were teammates with the Eagles from 2007 through the 2011 season.
The Dodgers have downplayed their interest in Tanaka according to Dylan Hernandez but they appear to be a perfect fit for him. The Rangers are considered to be “longshots” for Tanaka according to Evan Grant, Texas cannot be counted out because they could move players to create payroll space to sign Tanaka.
Masahiro Tanaka intends on making an impact in the majors next season according to a report from The Japan Times. Tanaka does not plan to just show up and be satisfied with being a Major League pitcher. Tanaka said he will continue to play “his style of baseball no matter where he is” and wants to keep improving as a ballplayer.
Masahiro Tanaka told the Japanese media that he plans on “giving back” to the Rakuten Golden Eagles with financial support and donations. Tanaka mentioned helping with Rakuten’s facilities and stadium “to make sure the Eagles are a team the Tohoku fans continue to love.”
Tanaka vs. Kuroda
The comparison frequently used for Masahiro Tanaka is Hiroki Kuroda, or Mr. Complete Game as he was known as prior to signing with the Dodgers in 2007. Kuroda completed 74 of the 244 games he started in Japan. The Cubs had interest in Kuroda before he signed a three-year, $35.3 million contract with L.A. Kuroda was coming off a down year at the time and was 32 years old.
Kuroda threw a fastball that ranged between 92-96 mph, a slider and a forkball in the high-80s. But more importantly he kept the ball down, and still does. Kuroda was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP (176 hits, 42 walks and 123 strikeouts in 179 2/3 innings) in 26 starts during his last season (2007) with the Hiroshima Carp. But it was his 2006 season that created the buzz about Kuroda at the time. In 26 appearances, 25 starts, Kuroda was 13-6 in 2006 with a 1.85 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP that included 144 strikeouts and 21 walks in 189 1/3 innings. Kuroda ended his career in Japan (11 seasons) with a 103-89 record that included a 3.69 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP.
Hiroki Kuroda was projected as a middle of the rotation starter, at best, when he first signed with the Dodgers. Kuroda has been slightly better than was projected six winters ago and re-signed with the Yankees this winter on a one-year, $16 million deal.
Masahiro Tanaka is seven years younger than Kuroda was when he signed with the Dodgers, but Tanaka has completed four fewer seasons in Japan. Tanaka throws a little harder than Kuroda (91-97 mph) and features a four-pitch mix. Tanaka reportedly throws the best splitter in the world (70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) that ranges from 86-89 mph, a slider (82-85 mph) that has been labeled as a plus-pitch and a curveball (72-76 mph). The concern with his fastball is that “he sinks on the backside of his delivery, which causes his fastball to come in on a flatter plane and makes it a more hittable pitch than the pure velocity would suggest” according to Baseball America.
Tanaka is a two-time Sawamura Award winner (The NPB’s version of the Cy Young Award) and is coming off a 24-0 season with Rakuten. Tanaka appeared in 28 games, made 27 starts this past season and finished with a 1.27 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. In 212 innings, Tanaka allowed 168 hits, walked 32 and struck out 183 batters. Tanaka posted a 99-35 record during his seven-year career in Japan with a 2.30 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Tanaka completed 53 of the 172 games he started and recorded 18 shutouts.
Gabe Kapler pointed out there has not been a Japanese pitcher with a substantial sample size in NPB history that has matched Tanaka’s dominance through age 24.
So if Hiroki Kuroda is a fair comp to Masahiro Tanaka, the team that signs Tanaka will get a very good Major League pitcher and at an age where he should be effective throughout the duration of the contract. But labeling Tanaka as an ace on a Major League staff, at this point, would be premature at best. There are not that many true aces in the game (there is a difference between a number one pitcher and an ace) and the expectations associated with the label is unfair to hang on any pitcher, regardless of the projections … or the hype.