For the past month, Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan) haven’t had any kind of agreement in place to govern how players under contract in Japan could come to the United States. Previously, that relationship was governed by a “posting system” in which MLB teams would submit blind bids for the right to negotiate with that player, with the highest bid winning. The agreement that led to that system recently expired, and we’ve been awaiting the resolution of negotiations between the two sides before we know whether top Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be made available this offseason.
Negotiations should kick back up this week as Jon Heyman reports Japanese officials are coming to the States this week to try and hammer out a deal. The two sides had been very close to a deal that would have left a variant of the posting system in place, in which the highest bidder would have won the rights, but would have paid only the average price between the top two bids. Japanese teams apparently weren’t thrilled with that system (by the way, my guess is they’re wrong that prices wouldn’t still climb), and small-market MLB teams don’t like it either.
Odds are strong that a deal gets done, and it provides for a system very similar to the one we’ve come to know and tolerate. But there’s a chance that the two sides do something crazy, like have three teams win the post and allow the player to choose his team … or something crazy, like not get a deal done at all. In that case, Tanaka couldn’t come to MLB until 2015, at the earliest.
As I’ve said before, the longer this drags out, the better it is for the Cubs. If Tanaka is the Cubs’ top offseason target, and if they have no other big money targets behind him, then they are at no disadvantage having to wait until, say, January or February for a resolution. The same might not necessarily be true for a team that expects to contend in 2014, and needs to make other moves before they are left in the dust. And if Tanaka can’t come at all this year, well, that’s not much skin of the Cubs’ nose, either, given that they don’t project to be a playoff contender in 2014.
Dare we get our hopes up by noting that Heyman lists three teams as the main contenders for Tanaka? The teams: the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Cubs. Unless the posting system is changed such that the posting fee counts against the luxury tax cap, however, you can still put all of your smart money (and then some) on the Yankees.