For the better part of a week and a half, despite hemming and hawing from the Rakuten Golden Eagles, the team that controls the rights to 25-year-old Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, I have maintained that I expect Tanaka will be posted this offseason. The MLB/NPB posting agreement is set to be put in place on Monday, and I expect Tanaka will be made available shortly thereafter, despite the now capped bidding process, which will net Rakuten just $20 million for the rights to Tanaka, rather than the $70+ million they were expecting.
Adding to my confidence? A bizarre, and somewhat hilarious report from Buster Olney:
Source: Other teams in Japan considering kicking in $ for Rakuten to make up for diminished posting fee on Tanaka, to move toward agreement.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2013
While you could read that as the other NPB teams simply trying to do what’s in the overall best interests of the league and its financial future, I choose to read it as, “We will pay you to get your best player out of the league.”
Imagine the Pirates and Cardinals chipping in to get Joey Votto sent overseas. Hell, I might pay a dollar or two, myself.
The broader, more important point here: clearly there is a lot of pressure on Rakuten to sign off on the new posting arrangement, and show their support by posting Masahiro Tanaka. For all their talk about $20 million not being a “fair trade” for Tanaka’s rights, they’re still looking at the possibility of keeping him, having a very pissed-off pitcher for 12 months (Tanaka reportedly wants to be posted), then trying to post him next offseason, and have him maybe say, “No thanks. I’ll just wait until next year when I’m a free agent and can sign for more.”
Maybe that’s a risk Rakuten is willing to take. Maybe Tanaka’s value to them is worth much more than $20 million, plus his unhappiness, plus the scorn of the rest of the league. I honestly don’t know.
But when I put it all together in my head, the logical outcome here is that Tanaka will be posted. I still expect the Cubs to be heavily involved once he is.