Obsessive Tanaka Watch: Concern Over Kickbacks, Evaluating Talent, Red Sox Lurking?

masahiro tanakaWith the New Year approaching, we’ll probably finally see some hard Masahiro Tanaka rumors – i.e., Team X has made a substantial offer – soon after the calendar flips. From there, he’ll have about three weeks to sign.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports that MLB is concerned that the Rakuten Golden Eagles have worked out an arrangement with Masahiro Tanaka whereby the pitcher would give back some of the contract he receives to Rakuten, who is displeased that posting bids have been capped at $20 million. Rakuten officials have essentially said publicly that this was the plan (talking about Tanaka paying for new facilities), and there was chatter about this long before Tanaka was actually posted. I guess MLB doesn’t want these kind of backdoor shenanigans polluting the negotiating process, which is supposed to be exclusively between the soon-to-be MLB player and MLB teams. For example, if some of the money coming to Tanaka is going to go to Rakuten, they might be involved in the player’s negotiations, and then there could be backdoor dealings between Rakuten and certain MLB teams to steer Tanaka to a particular team, contrary to what he might want to do. For another example, imagine dealings between an MLB team and an NPB team before a player is even posted, where there’s an agreement in place to send extra money to the NPB team once the player signs (thus cutting out the other 29 MLB teams from possibly getting the player). MLB has gone so far as to formally request that Rakuten confirm it has no such side deal in place with Tanaka (per the Los Angeles Times), though it’s unclear how Rakuten will respond, or what would happen if Rakuten said, “Whateva, we do what we want.” This is definitely an aspect of the story to watch.
  • Baseball Prospectus scouts Tanaka in depth, and it’s really worth a read (requires a subscription). The short version: because of the low trajectory that allows Tanaka to have superior command, he will have success the first time through the league, but could be hit quite a bit the second time through. He’ll have to adjust, as all good players do, and it’s hard to project how that will work out for him.
  • Jim Bowden says the best comp for Tanaka is Dan Haren in his prime, with great command and a 70 splitter. I don’t love getting into the comp game, but holy-crap-prime-Dan-Haren was good: he was annually a five or six win pitcher, which is a guy who would be worth as much as $25 to $30 million per year in free agency (by WAR/$). If Tanaka actually became that guy, you’d give him seven years and $140 million and laugh all the way to the bank (or the playoffs, hopefully).
  • The Rangers front office confirms that signing Tanaka at this point, financially, would be a “tough thing.” They are looking more at back-of-the-rotation options right now. I don’t think you can count the Rangers out, but I don’t think this is just gamesmanship. (Increasingly I wonder, though: if the money is close from a lot of teams, isn’t Tanaka going to want to go somewhere that he can be “the guy,” or, at the very least, not the second fiddle to Yu Darvish?)
  • Both Nick Cafardo and John Tomase note that the Red Sox have not been heavily connected to Tanaka in rumors, but suggest that perhaps they should be. Each says that Tanaka makes a lot of sense for the Red Sox, who may yet get involved.
  • Although teams have reached out to Tanaka’s agent Casey Close already, ESPNNewYork reports that nothing is expected to happen until after New Year’s Day. Even then, I’d think that we’ll see a round of meetings/offers/wooing, and we’re not likely to actually hear of final suitors for another couple weeks.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

98 responses to “Obsessive Tanaka Watch: Concern Over Kickbacks, Evaluating Talent, Red Sox Lurking?”

  1. Blackhawks1963

    Tanaka will invariably sign with the Yankees or Dodgers. At which time Cub fans will root for his arm to fall off and his new contract to go down in the annals of baseball as the worst ever. So now we seem to be getting a jump on collecting contrarian scouting reports and expert opinions to validate our thoughts once Tanaka is rolled out in Pinstripes or Dodger blue.

    1. Rebuilding

      If we are going to talk about secondary reasons (I think will all come down to money) as to why Tanaka might sign certain places I think the Cubs offer 2 very compelling ones:

      (1) We are the only team being seriously discussed where he will be the #1 and possibly/likely start Opening Day. He’s been the top dog for a long time and the Dodgers, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers and Angels all have a guy penciled in to start the opener.

      (2) Rakuten are the “loveable losers” of Japan and everyone there understands their connection to the Cubs. Tanaka took great pride in leading that specific team to a championship given their history

      1. Edwin

        I don’t really think he cares too much about the Cubs’ history, or about being an opening day starter, as compared to being paid, and being on a team that has a chance to win right away.

        1. Rebuilding

          As I said – I agree money will be the primary factor. But people are constantly talking secondary factors and I think the Cubs do have some compelling ones. Being “the guy” is one, although guys try to downplay it starting on Opening Day is important to highly competitive pitchers

          1. Edwin

            That’s fine. I guess I’ve never heard of a pitcher being upset that they didn’t get to start on opening day, or of a pitching going to another team just to be “the guy” and get the opening day start.

            For that matter, I think Samardzija would be the opening day starter for the Cubs either way. (unless trade/injuries happen). If the talent level is considered close, teams seem to go with veterans or players who have more history with their current team.

            1. Rebuilding

              Yeah, I doubt the Cubs would give the Opening Day ball to a guy who won’t sign extension over a guy they give lets say 7/140. But that’s IMHO

              1. CubFan Paul

                Samardzija is a bulldog during spring training. I think performance/readiness-wise Samardzija would start Opening Day over Tanaka, if the two were here.

                1. hookersorcake

                  Wood was/is the better pitcher at this point. Plus we start in Pitt, so there are two openers. I’d go Tanaka, if we sign him. Then Wood and Shark can start the home opener.

                  1. CubFan Paul

                    “Wood was/is the better pitcher at this point”

                    Why? Because of his ERA?

                  2. Norm

                    Edwin Jackson will have a better 2014 than Travis Wood.

        2. noisesquared

          Why? I have read nothing that says what Tanaka’s preferences are either way. There’s a lot of assuming going on right now regarding Tanaka’s intentions.

          1. Edwin

            Why would I assume that Tanaka doesn’t care about being an opening day starter/”the man”, and that he probably doesn’t care about the Cubs?

            Since most pitchers don’t seem to care about these things, I think it’s safe to assume that Tanaka doesn’t care either. Most players just sign wherever the money is best, or if not, wherever there’s a good chance to win. I think Tanaka caring specifically about the Cubs is about as likely as Tanaka caring about which number he is assigned.

            1. Rebuilding

              I just have to disagree there. Guys do care whether they are the man. All other things being equal A guy would prefer to be the Opening Day starter over being the #3 guy in a rotation (like he would be with the Dodgers). That’s just the makeup of players who reach the pinnacle

              1. Edwin

                Do you have any examples of player who signed with a certain team to be the opening day starter, or because they would be the new staff ace, or didn’t sign with a team for those reasons?

                A player might care, but I’ve never heard of it listed as a reason why a player would or would not sign. With money equal, I think a player cares more about winning, or the media market/team he’s going to, before he starts looking at the depth chart and considers whether to sign or not.

              2. CubFan Paul


                Would he really be the #3? I don’t see the Dodgers as serious suitors as the lazy mainstream media does (Grant Brisbee).

  2. Ballgame

    I have the worst memory ever, but “1963″ didn’t you say a few weeks ago you can’t stand the Tanaka coverage? Yet, everyday when there’s a Tanaka update, you chime in. We know you think he isn’t coming to the Cubs, thanks for your daily input that offers minimal (being generous) insight…

  3. Rebuilding

    I’ve been commenting on this “back door” payoff to Rakuten for weeks. It’s why I always thought he would get posted. It’s really MLBs own fault for pushing the posting fee cap so low that Japanese teams are going to want it and as best I can tell there is really no way to stop it. Tanaka can put his money wherever he wishes and the MLB team will have plausible deniability.

    As for the Haren comp – people forget just how good Haren was. I’m not sure I agree with the scouting report on Tanaka as his fastball is really just a secondary pitch for him. When a pitcher has a splitter he can control its damn near unhittable

    1. AP

      I can’t remember who said it a few weeks ago, but someone on the board mentioned having each team who gets to negotiate paying 2-3 million even if they don’t get the player. I think you could even just require 1 million or some sort of percentage of whatever the top bid happens to be. In Tanaka’s case, if everyone bid the max, then Rakuten would get 20 mil from the winning team and 1 mil from each of the other 29 teams which is, ta-da, 49 mil. I think that could work well as a posting system but the small market teams would still cry foul. Anyway – that’s not what we’re stuck with now so we’ll have to deal with what we have for the next couple of years.

  4. woody

    Good grief this is Chicago isn’t it. Home of Al Capone. We can do back door deals as good as anyone. Can’t we?

    1. Boogens

      Not so sure the Cubs can. The Wrigley rennovation project hasn’t yet begun despite ample opportunity for back door deals.

  5. Blackhawks1963

    Oh, you’re welcome! Glad to be of service.

    1. ssckelley

      What service are you providing?

      1. DarthHater

        Assisting in Beta testing of BN’s new “ignore” feature. ;-)

        1. Edwin

          Obviously, it’s not working too well.

  6. itzscott

    Couple of things in my mind on this….

    * The possibility of the Red Sox going full throttle on Tanaka with the secondary motivation being to try to do everything possible to assure Epstein’s failure.

    * This alleged “deal” between Rakuten and Tanaka is cheating, pure and simple. It’s no different if a team agrees to crap like this to get an edge on their competition than if a player uses PEDs to get an edge on their competition. This needs to be stopped before it even begins if only to protect the integrity of baseball once again.

    1. Blackhawks1963


      Yeah, it’s part of the strategic mission of the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox to investment $120 mil plus on Tanaka just to stick it to Theo Epstein in Chicago. Crikey.

      Your second point is illogical. The system be what the system be. If Tanaka has a tactit agreement in place to send some of his new MLB contract dough back home to his old team then so be it. Doesnt affect how he is recruited and signed in this country.

      1. hansman

        It also destroys what the current agreement tries to accomplish and that is allow for a smaller barrier to entry for teams in getting this guy.

        Plus, it places an undue burden on the player to accept such an agreement and lose out on money they are owed and could change the dynamic of NPB teams bringing in players.

        1. Pat

          How does this affect who can sign him? What he does with his contract money is his own business.

          1. hansman

            Unless he demands more money in his contract so he can pay Rakuten.

        2. MattM

          I don’t get what people are so pissed about with the kick back. My thinking is this. If for instance the Cubs pay him 150 mil. He OWNS that money! It is his!
          If he wants to give some to his former team NOONE can tell him what he can do with it.

          MLB is getting crazier and crazier!

    2. Pat

      It’s not cheating, nor does it give any team a supposed edge. Tanaka wanted something from his team that they did not have to give him (posting him two years before free agency). The team wanted something in exchange that Tanaka did not have to give them (additional money). They agreed to exchange those things. Unless this is strictly prohibited under the new posting agreement, I don’t see why anyone should care.

      1. Edwin

        I think the fear is that a team might make an under the table deal with Tanaka, where they actually wind up paying him much more than the actual contract, so that Tanaka can then in turn pay Rakuten. The whole idea of the posting system was to limit the amount of money MLB teams would need to spend, and to get more money into the hands of the players. Under the table deals defeat both of these objectives.

        1. Pat

          That would be a separate agreement, which would be illegal under MLB policy and would not be allowed. The alleged agreement with Rakuten, unless expressly prohibited under the new posting system, is none of MLB, or anyone else’s business, other than the two parties who agreed on it.

        2. caryatid62

          It doesn’t get more money in the hands of the players–it keeps more money in the pockets of the owners.

          1. Edwin

            The current posting system, if it works as planned, allows Tanaka to be a FA, and he’ll have a shot at a huge contract, so I’d say it puts more money in the hands of the players. Just look at how much Tanaka should get compared to how much Darvish actually gets paid.

            I agree with your second part though, I think the owners’ main objective is to find a way to spend less.

            1. Caryatid62

              That’s probably true. I was speaking more towards intent, so I think we agree. The owners did this for the owners. If the players benefit, that’s fine, too.

    3. caryatid62

      The idea that the terrible $20 million limit on posting fees can somehow be tied to “the integrity of baseball” is ridiculous.

      Rakuten should do whatever it can to get whatever money possible for Tanaka, especially given the unfairness of this $20 million limit. He’s their employee.

  7. Spoda17

    I don’t think this is going to take the full month of January for him to sign. Teams will want to know, so they can make other offers. The Cubs don’t care if it goes into late January, but the other teams do. That actually may work out in the Cub’s favor.

    1. hansman

      I think it will quickly get boiled down to 2-3 teams but since there is an actual deadline they will, probably, want to push it there. Deadlines do crazy things to folks.

      That is, unless they get a really good offer before then.

      1. Spoda17

        I think the real players in on Tanaka will give a best and final very quickly after the new year. This could be an advantage to the Cubs, but I still just don’t think the Cubs have a chance to land him. I could be wrong, and I hope that I am. This FO is very crafty so you never know; but mu gut still says no Tanaka.

        1. CubFan Paul

          “the real players in on Tanaka will give a best and final very quickly after the new year”

          I agree. The Garzas & Jimenezs are still out there. I think Tanaka signs ‘quickly’/well before the 24th, then we see the pitching dominoes falling (Shark & Price too).

  8. robert w pfauth cedar spring / grand rapids michigan

    all you supposedly the true blue cubs fan are acting like they want to see the cubs fail on Tanaka so you have something to bitch about : ) I only hope the cubs dose sing him so you well shut up and stop . every team has a chance to sing him what make you think its auto mastic that he well sing with the Yankees , dodgers or red sox he might like the challenge in Chicago like he did in for his team over seas a team like the cubs could happen .

    1. Coop

      Me failed English? Thats unpossible.

  9. Brian

    I think the MLB has to be careful with how they approach this. If Tanaka and all negotiating MLB teams negotiate in good faith, then when he signs it is his money and can spend how he sees fit.

    However, I do understand Brett’s point about backdroom deals, but until their is proof, how can MLB instruct a player to not spend their money how they want.

  10. Spoda17

    Is it just me, or is CSNChicago taking the entire holiday break off? They are not really reporting anything…

  11. Norm

    Rangers, December 12th:
    “We like what we’ve been able to accomplish overall,” Daniels said. “There’s still some things we can do, but I don’t expect any more substantial, big moves.
    “That’s not to say we aren’t looking at some things, but I don’t expect any more major moves. I like our club. There are still some areas where we can add some depth, but I think we’ll be competitive.”

    Rangers, December 21:
    Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo to 7 years, $130M deal.

    I don’t ever believe any GM in the game.

  12. Sacko

    Well that’s enough Tanaka for me now..The more I read about Baez the more he sounds like an improved right handed hitting BJackson that hasn’t seen 3A pitching yet.
    Replied critics are accepted now.

    1. Chad

      Baez could bust, but to say he is a slightly improve BJax is pretty understated. When did BJax ever tear up any level of the minors like Baez did last year?

      1. Edwin

        Brett Jackson had a 170 wRC+ in A+ ball in his age 22 season. As a 20/21 year old Baez posted a 145 wRC+ in A+ ball. Of course, Baez also went on to post a wRC+ of 180 in AA, and BJax settled into more the 120+ wRC+ range in AA and AAA, until bottoming out last year.

    2. Spoda17

      You could say the same thing about Trout and Happer… they didn’t see much AAA pitching either. I think Luke has commented a few times that AA is truly the launching point to the majors, AAA is for rehabbing and place holder time. I don’t think you have to be “successful” in AAA to make it to MLB. I think if you rake AA, you are considered ready (all things being equal).

      1. Sacko

        Sounds encouraging Chad and Spoda thats what I was looking for and forward to as not much else is going on except Tanaka and I don’t see him signing with us which means we can forget about Shark extension also.

      2. Luke

        Not quite.

        Once you hit Double A you are considered one phone call away from the majors, but that does not mean that Triple A is irrelevant or that prospects can/should skip it. Triple A is a very demanding league and there is nearly always value in a player spending at least a third to half a season (minimum, often much more) at that level.

    3. Rich H

      Bo Jackson?

  13. Abe Froman

    If the Yankees seriously go after Tanaka they must be gaga for him. Their game plan has been getting under the luxury tax, which they haven’t only said but have been sticking to in free agency. This year they have made a splash but still under the luxury tax if ARod is suspended the year which seems more likely than not. Why would they sit out on Greinke and other recent FAs that have proven MLB success if the luxury tax plan wasn’t their MO? If they sign Tanaka it undoes in some ways what they have been executing over the last couple years, and will be paying Tanakas salary plus a decent chunk of change in tax (seen several estimates of the overage but nothing for sure). Meaning they have to match or beat the highest free market price AND tens of millions in a tax (by some estimates).

    My point is they may not be the big players it seems they are, however why would they spend the time to publicly make it known they are aggressively pursuing him? I can understand a little misdirection to drive the price up, but it gets to be a resource suck if they really don’t want to sign him. So I’m saying they will AND will not sign him.

  14. Spoda17

    I read yesterday, and I cannot remember where (I have a bad habit of doing that, I need to record my reading history… ha), but “inside” the Yankee FO, they will blow past the luxury tax to get Tanaka. If they get Tanaka, they may actually spend even more… Similar to what the Cubs did in the international draft…

    1. Abe Froman

      That’s a good comparison! I go back and forth on what the Yankees are thinking, but I get your point about blowing past the cap, however would that make sense at this point in the off season with most free agents signed by the time Tanaka reaches a decision?

    2. CubFan Paul

      “the Yankee FO, they will blow past the luxury tax to get Tanaka”

      They’ve been planning on getting under $189M for 3 years or more (they’ve known Tanaka would be available for about that same time).

      They signed Lyle Overbay last year as a regular. They’re bluffing, in my opinion.

  15. Bilbo161

    There have been a lot of Tanaka posts. Not tired of them per se, because I would really like to see the cubs sign him. It’s just hard to think of something new to say about him. Nothing was more enjoyable to me than the centerfield camera view of Bruce Sutter’s fork-ball dropping off the table as it reached the strike zone, causing the batter to screw himself into the ground swinging over it. That’s what I think of when I imagine him on the mound at Wrigley. I just hope it’s for the Cubs!

  16. Aaron

    Why would Tanaka choose the Cubs over another team, especially those that are ready to compete for a championship? Please don’t mention simply more money. Sales time here.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “Why would Tanaka choose the Cubs over another team”

      Money. Money. Money.

  17. The Ghost of Brett Jackson

    The Cubs have a shot at Tanaka. To dismiss the Cubs as a viable destination is short sided and ignorant. We have no idea what Tanaka is really looking for other than $$$$ as there are other variables in this. LA/NYY look like tough comp but we also know they have some issues/concerns swirling around them in terms of luxury tax ect. We don’t exactly know how they are going to play this. It will be an interesting 25 or so days.

  18. jmc

    honestly I do not think any of us know what tanaka is thinking.I do know that wherever he goes he is going to be the new tailor if the picture of him in the pink tuxedo is any indication.the picture was posted in an awful hatchet piece by somebody named kent sterling whoever he is. Pink tuxedo seriously?

  19. jmc

    maybe Darth Hater can find that pink tuxedo picture.

  20. Fastball

    I think there will be about 6 teams with serious offers on Tanaka and that’s it. I believe the Cubs will honestly be the highest bidder. I have no problem with Tanaka sending money back to Rakuten if that is of his choosing. He may have some kind of vested interest in Rakuten. The Japanese are very loyal people so don’t think he doesn’t want to pay his respects back to Rakuten for making his baseball life what it is. I don’t think it’s any of MLB’s business if a guy wants to send money back to Japan. If he was sending it back to some other business he chose to invest in would that be any different. While driving back from New York I listened to Bowden cause I was bored to death looking straight down I90 forever. Bowden says Tanaka is only a #2 and that is all he will ever be. He thinks all the teams are going to way over pay for him. I don’t really agree with the overpay. I do agree with the fact he is a #2. He only has a 92-93mph fastball. He has a boatload of innings on that arm and shoulder. If somebody gives him 7 years they are going to be bitching about his contract 3-4 years into it. If he loses 1 mph a year he had better be able to throw strikes over a matchbook cover. I know a lot about pitching and if he gets down to 89 mph it’s batting practice if he isn’t perfect with his location. Also if he doesn’t throw junk for strikes and just uses those pitches to get guy chasing he won’t last long at the MLB level. He has been doing this at AAAA at best in the Japanese league. I want us to sign him and it would be awesome. He would be a great number 2 and later in his career a progressive slide to a 3 and 4 if he stays healthy. I think it would allow Shark to settle in at the #3 spot which is about he will ever be. With Wood in the #4 spot and Jackson at the #5 we look good. I don’t put any of these 4 in the top of the rotation facing anther teams #1 because if you going to lose it’s going to be to that guy most often. To me those are throw away games in the grand scheme of things. I would rather have a damned good shot at winning the other starters games 2 – 5. I would put Arrieta in the #1 slot because he is really my #5. I give the farm system 2 more years to produce some #4 and above starters and see where we are. If we don’t find a #1 from within then we use our system to trade for a #1.

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