If you were desperately hoping for a final decision on whether Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka was going to be made available this week, you can stop hoping.
Members from the front office of Tanaka’s team in Japan, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, were in attendance at the Winter Meetings yesterday, and did little to clarify whether Tanaka would be posted once the new MLB/NPB agreement is in place early next week.
“I don’t know if $20 million is fair value for this kind of trade,” Rakuten assistant general manager Aki Sasaki said, per Jeff Passan. “I don’t know if it’s the right price.”
Under the new MLB/NPB agreement, Japanese teams would have the right to set a particular price – up to $20 million – for the right to negotiate with one of their players under contract. Every team willing to meet that price could negotiate with the player, but only the team that actually signs him will have to pay it. In Tanaka’s case, if he were made available, virtually every team in baseball would be willing to pay the $20 million fee. The question is whether Rakuten believes it’s enough to let their star go.
If it were up to Tanaka, Passan reports that he would definitely be posted, as a source says Tanaka “absolutely” wants to come to the big leagues. Rakuten, then, is put in a tough position: refuse to post Tanaka because $20 million is too small a bounty, and try to keep Tanaka happy for the next 12 months, knowing that you may have just taken $10s of millions out of his pocket. What happens when Tanaka’s manager asks him to go back out to the mound after throwing 140 pitches through seven innings? At what point does Tanaka think, “Why should I be risking my big payday because these guys decided $20 million wasn’t enough?” It might not actually play out like that, but you can see what an ugly situation it could become.
Ultimately, I still expect Tanaka to be posted, and I still expect the Cubs to be legitimate bidders for his services. We just might not know for a little while yet.