One of more intriguing free agents available this winter is 25-year-old RHP Masahiro Tanaka.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a few months, I’m sure you’ve heard bits and pieces about him and his potential arrival in the United States.  Just in case you’ve missed some of the details, allow me to fill you in.

According to a 1998 deal with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), MLB teams cannot just take a player from a Japanese team without compensating said team.  That’s where you hear about the “posting fees” for Japanese players that hope to come to the United States.  Until this offseason, MLB teams blindly submitted bids to the player’s NPB team.  The highest bid won the right to negotiate with that player.  If the MLB team was unable to come to an agreement, and the player stayed in Japan, the posting fee was returned.  Since you had no idea what your MLB competitors were bidding, you had to submit an offer that would assure you landed the negotiating rights.  To date, Yu Darvish has attracted the highest posting fee – $51.7 million – just edging out the $51.1 million bid the Red Sox made for Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Remember, this money is before the team even establishes a contract with the player.  (For example, the Rangers gave Darvish a six-year, $60 million deal on top of the high posting fee, meaning their total investment is around $111 million).  I should add that these posting fees do not figure into a team’s salary cap figures.  So teams like the Yankees, who were rumored to want to be under the salary cap (even though that plan may be out the window now), would have liked the fact they can make an absurd posting bid that does not take up cap space.

However, this offseason, MLB and NPB rewrote their former agreement and put a cap on the posting fee at $20 million.  This obviously upset the owner of Tanaka’s team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who had been looking for a huge payday this offseason from Tanaka’s likely record posting fee.  There was some debate that he may choose not to post Tanaka because of this, but that decision carried some risk.  In the relatively near future, Tanaka would be a free agent and his team would get exactly $0, because at that point he could just come to the U.S. without a posting fee.  Even though the Eagles had been looking forward to a posting fee north of $50 million, $20 million is better than nothing.  At one point, there were theories that Tanaka and the Eagles may try to circumvent the posting fee.  The owner made a throwaway comment about how Tanaka would help pay for improvements to their stadium (which was heavily damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami).  MLB said they will be keeping an eye out for deals such as this, and that $20 million is the limit.

So what does any of this have to do with the typically thrifty Indians?  The Indians have supposedly expressed interest in Tanaka, although to be fair, probably every team in MLB is interested.  He’s had an ERA of 2.50 or lower over the past five seasons (he went 24-0 last year as Rakuten won the NPB championship), and two of the past three years he’s had a WHIP under 1.00.  When you take his success, and his relatively young age, he’ll be an asset to any team, even if his stuff doesn’t translate as a number one starter in MLB.  The posting fee cap actually means that pretty much any team can say “Hey, I’d pay him $20 million to talk” and can talk to his agent about a potential salary.  There are a number of theories that this low posting fee will help smaller market teams.  Obviously, it will help them through this posting fee stage, since they don’t have to make a potentially risky, blind bid.  I can’t see them having much of a chance after that point though.  The fact that so many teams are interested will drive his asking price through the roof, likely far beyond what he’d receive under the old posting system when he could only negotiate with one team.  Sure, that one team didn’t want him to turn them down and return to Japan.  But now, teams will be drooling at the thought of his services.  In my mind, this deal basically takes the money out of the hands of Japanese owners and puts it in the hands of the players.  As I mentioned above, the total investment in Yu Darvish was around $111 million.  If you look at it in current terms, minus a $20 million posting fee, it would mean that a team could pay Tanaka $90 million and still come out relatively even with the Darvish investment.

Even though the Indians are likely to be outbid on Tanaka in the free agent market, his signing still could have implications for them.  A lot of teams (and free agent pitchers) are waiting to see where Tanaka lands before doing anything else.  Free agents like Ubaldo Jimenez are hoping that teams disappointed they missed out on Tanaka will turn to him as a viable “Plan B.”  Both Chicago teams, the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Diamondbacks have seemed to be the most serious about Tanaka thus far, although he supposedly favors Los Angeles, Boston, and New York.  Only one of those teams can get Tanaka.  If nothing else, the rest of the free agent pitching market will finally get moving once Tanaka signs.


  • Joseph Devito says:

    The Indians have absolutely no shot of signing Tanaka. This organization is masterful at manipulating speculation. But year after year they show just how uncommitted to winning they really are. We have seen them sign a plethora of utility type non impact players. While other teams are signing players to improve their clubs, the Indians continually pick up cheap mediocre players and hope to get lucky. Us fans are utterly disgusted at their antics. They have needed a middle-of-the-order hitter for three years now and have not addressed that need. Ownership is clearly not committed to putting a quality product on the field and we know it. So, please stop the ingenuous speculation that disappoints and frustrates but doesn’t fool us loyal but disheartened fans.

    • Sean Porter says:

      I’m sorry, but did I dream last year’s 90+ win, wild card Indians team?

      I get some of your frustration, but wow, this is a bit extreme. As we speak, the Tribe is starting negotiations for an extension for Justin Masterson.

      I’m not a big fan of the Dolans, mind you, but MLB’s economic structure is to blame as much as the Dolan’s refusal to produce 100+ mill payrolls.

    • Cale says:

      The Swisher signing last year was supposed to address the need for a middle of the order hitter, he just didn’t perform.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    I agree with Sean. We have to reserve judgment until the off-season is over. The team did very well in making over the roster late in the off-season last year when good players were available at a discount. While Tanaka is a long shot, wouldn’t it be something?!

  • joe tako says:

    I think we have bigger problems in Cleveland and that is the attendance. The fans are so disgusted with the owners that only 10-12,000 fans show up for the home games. Couple that with the fact that general population is migrating out of town I think our bigger issue is whether we will even have a team in 5-10 years. Cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Oklahoma City will be knocking on our door soon. Add to that the disgust the players voiced last season regarding “playing in front of only a few thousand fans” and we could have much bigger issues than we can imagine. Many free agents, unless they have local ties, don’t want to be here. I don’t blame them.

    • Jeff D says:

      Joe, you are exactly right it seems that Indians fans are so sure that the team will collapse down the stretch that they refuse to attend games. The Indians were winning last season and still only playing in front of small crowds. In this day and age of $20 million per year contracts MLB has stacked the deck against small market teams. Gone are the days of a family being able to afford to go to more than a couple of games a year. Going to a baseball game now does not have the sports entertainment value that it used to have! At this point I really can’t blame the Dolans for being thrifty…attendance figures have warranted it!

  • Gvl Steve says:

    The city isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. The jobs left, then the people left, and the team may be next. I will follow them wherever they go. But maybe if the team shows some sustained success, especially with the Browns and Cavs still scuffling, fans will start to come out more often.

    • ThatOneGuy says:

      Your own argument invalidates your claim. The Browns are consistently bad, yet draw crowds. And if last season wasn’t enough to bring people in, then sadly Clev doesn’t deserve this team or any future possibility of success. I hear the Yankees are always looking for more fans.

  • Chris Burnham says:

    Yes, they are.

    No, they do not.

    I mean, yeah, I want the Indians to do the unthinkable and get a little crazy sometimes. I think this guy would be worth the investment. Whether if there’s some funny business about the long-term health of this guy’s arm (it has been raised up for debate in quotes and in the blogosphere about strategically-timed postings after Daisuke Matsuzaka flamed out in year two in Boston), at some point the Indians have to get in hard on somebody like this.

    But I just don’t see it happening, because I’m a jaded son of a gun. And Tanaka also named the places of which he wanted to go, which are New York, Boston and LA, of course.

    And the Indians were “in” on both Matsuzaka and Darvish. I remember the Indian’s bid for Matsuzaka not even being half of what Boston bid. Turned out okay missing on Dice-K, I guess. I don’t remember what was bid for Darvish, but it probably barely moved the needle. Darvish seems like a horse for the long haul that I would clear the farm for.

    So, I’m skeptical that it’s even worth pursuing. I mean, Ubaldo wants a minimum of $80 million and Tanaka’s potential is worlds past what Jimenez is now. That comes at an exorbitant premium these days, and it’s just not the Indians’ way.

  • Berdj Joseph Rassam says:

    The Indians have no chance at Tanaka.

  • Sean Porter says:

    In ridiculous contract news: The Dodgers signed Clayton Kershaw to a 7 year, $215 million contract extension today.

    That’s right folks, $30.7 mill a year, seven years.

    • Cale says:

      Just to point out one thing about the deal, though…at least they are paying him that much in the prime of his career. He’s only 25 and they’re paying him that amount of money until he’s 32. Most huge deals get signed when a player goes to free agency and they are already 30…so when they sign a 7 to 10 year, $200M+ deal, they’re paying that amount when the player is over the hill. Kershaw is actually getting paid that amount for his good years.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    Mindboggling. That should end any discussion of the Indians being free agent players for a frontline starting pitcher.

    • Sean Porter says:

      Not sure why it didn’t hit me, but a guy I know pointed out the obvious: Basically, Clayton Kershaw will get paid $1 million every time he starts a game for the Dodgers for the next seven years.

      That’s if he stays healthy. Sprinkle in the occasional D.L. trip, and the rate increases.

      Wrap your head around that for a bit…

  • Gvl Steve says:

    The Indians’ TV deal nets them what, $25 million a year in extra revenue? The Phillies’ new deal will bring ten times that amount. Imagine what the Dodgers will earn in their market. One journalist described their financial resources as virtually unlimited. How does anyone compete with that? That isn’t the Dolans’ fault. Unless someone bought the team so he could lose $50 million a year by spending that much more on payroll than the team brings in, but who can afford to do that, much less wants to?

  • Sean Porter says:

    The five teams – reported tonight – that Tanaka is considering are: Arizona, Los Angeles Dodgers (good grief), New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and White Sox.

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