Baseball America’s Ben Badler is a smart dude, and he puts into words my thoughts on the Masahiro Tanaka posting situation about as well as I could have. If you care at all about the Tanaka story, it is required reading.
I don’t want to ape Badler’s work, but the gist is a more amplified version of what many of us have been discussing in the comments over the past few days: while the Rakuten Eagles (Tanaka’s team) may be pissed that their $70+ million payday just shrank to $20 million, that’s still a lot of money to turn your back on because of pride. More importantly, if Rakuten doesn’t post Tanaka this offseason, they could have a problem next offseason when they try to post him (he’s under team control for two more years). Sensing a bigger payday if he waited just one more year and was a true free agent, Tanaka could make a $20 million bet on himself and refuse to sign with whatever MLB team wins his rights next year. If that happens, Rakuten gets nothing. For the record, $20 million is more than nothing.
Badler’s piece links to a couple Japanese articles featuring thoughts from Rakuten’s president that imply he will leave the posting decision up to Tanaka. Perhaps the team will figure out a way to entice Tanaka to stay, but he’s looking at a $100 million payday in the States, and made just $3.8 million in Japan last year. The economics here are stark, and it’s almost impossible to envision Tanaka not wanting to make the leap now, when his value is arguably the highest. After all, the very posting changes that are frustrating Rakuten are designed to put a hell of a lot more money in Tanaka’s pocket.
To my mind, assuming Rakuten acts rationally, and assuming Tanaka doesn’t have some yet unknown reason for staying in Japan, there is very little reason to believe he won’t be posted. The MLB/NPB deal could be formalized next week, and we could have our answer soon. If Tanaka is posted under the new system, as it has been reported, teams will be able to bid for his rights, up to $20 million. The teams that tie for his rights at $20 million will be able to negotiate with him over the following month of craziness. (Yes, that will definitely produce an Obsessive Tanaka Watch.)