Why Not Bid On Masahiro Tanaka?

Under the old player-posting system between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, it was rare to see small-market MLB clubs bid on Japanese stars.  You had the occasional case of a small-market team finding an underrated player that exceeded everyone's expectations (i.e. the Brewers' signing of Norichika Aoki) but for the most part, the biggest stars that came to North America from Japan usually ended up with richer MLB teams in recent years.  Teams like the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox were generally the only ones who could afford the ever-growing posting fees for Japan's best players, not to mention then being able to sign those players to lucrative contracts.

This issue was one of the reasons why MLB wanted a new deal with NPB, and thus the two leagues' new posting agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations.  With posting fees for all players capped at $20MM, more than just the biggest markets are theoretically able to bid on top Japanese stars, such as this offseason's most influential available player, Rakuten Golden Eagles righty Masahiro Tanaka

Of course, the demand for Tanaka's services has been so fierce that his eventual contract could approach the $100MM threshold, meaning that the usual big-market suspects are often cited as his likeliest suitors.  The Yankees are widely known to covet Tanaka, with the Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Mariners also often cited as teams in the mix.  I suspect that Tanaka's list of suitors will be much larger than just these clubs, however.  I'm not talking about just the ever-popular "mystery team" or two — the list should, frankly, include almost every team in Major League Baseball. 

If a team has scouted Tanaka and has legitimate questions about his ability to make the transition from NPB to North America, then that's obviously a fair reason to stay out of the Tanaka sweepstakes.  If a team thinks Tanaka can pitch effectively in MLB and is simply shying away from bidding since they're in a rebuilding phase or thinks they can't afford his eventual contract, that seems like short-sighted thinking.  As ESPN's Buster Olney tweets, "for a team to not indicate a willingness to pay a $20 million posting fee on Tanaka is like not running out a grounder; [it] costs nothing to try."

The Cubs' interest in Tanaka is the clearest argument against the "we're rebuilding" excuse.  As recently detailed by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, Tanaka's age (25) makes him an attractive prospect for a Cubs team that isn't planning to contend for a couple more seasons, since Tanaka will still be in his prime by the time the Cubs expect to make a move in the NL Central.  That same reasoning also makes Tanaka a realistic target for the Astros; The Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich admits that the Astros may be a "long shot" to sign the Japanese right-hander, but they're still expected to check in on Tanaka.  It's also worth noting that if Tanaka lives up to the hype and becomes an ace in MLB, a losing team's rebuilding process suddenly becomes much shorter.

The "we can't afford him" argument isn't as potent as it once was given how every team is receiving extra money from MLB's national TV contracts and many clubs are getting a boost from their own local TV deals.  As we've seen over the last two years, all sorts of teams in all sorts of markets have made surprising financial expenditures to either lock up their own stars to big extensions or sign pricey free agents. 

Would it really be so surprising if the Twins bid on Tanaka and pushed hard to sign him, given how that team has already been very aggressive in upgrading its pitching this winter?  The Royals are known to be gunning for the playoffs in 2014 and could make a run at Tanaka as Ervin Santana's replacement.  Maybe even the Pirates could capitalize on their revival last season and look to add Tanaka as the final piece of the puzzle to get the team back to the World Series.  Even teams like the Cardinals or Red Sox who seemingly have pitching depth to spare could use their financial resources and reputations as quality franchises to sign Tanaka, and then further upgrade their rosters by trading their excess starters.

You could argue that bidding on Tanaka wouldn't be worth a small- or mid-market team's time since they're likely to get outbid by a big-market team…but you never know.  Going into the winter, you wouldn't have thought that the Mariners would've been the ones to land Robinson Cano, and while the M's may have had to drastically outbid the Yankees to do it, they ended up one of the game's best players and a transformed franchise.

This is all good news for Casey Close, Tanaka's agent, as a crowded market will naturally drive up Tanaka's asking price.  While there's still a very good chance Tanaka will be pitching for a big-market team in 2014, don't be surprised at all to see some unlikely clubs get heavily involved in the sweepstakes.  MLBTR readers agree — of the six teams listed in a recent MLBTR poll as Tanaka's top suitors, the choice of "other" was second in the voting.  It could've just been wishful thinking from readers hoping that their own favorite team can acquire a potential ace, or it could be a portent that the changes to the posting system will indeed level the playing field for more than just baseball's richest teams.


69 Responses to Why Not Bid On Masahiro Tanaka? Leave a Reply

  1. Wait, the Mariners sign Cano so they get to be a “usual big-market suspect” now? That seems stretchy. Quick math says the Mariners basically blew their additional TV revenues for the next 9 years on 2013’s shiniest trophy. Is there a gold mine underneath the stadium that we’re not aware of?

    I think you’re 100% right about the main premise though. The market for Tanaka is going to be significantly larger than anyone expects, unless someone goes nutty, offers him Matt Cain money, and then suddenly it’s not.

    • Zachary 2 years ago

      I’m sorry but your math is incomplete. The Mariners are still under last years commitments. If they are increasing budget as they have said, there is room. Less guessing, more facts.

      • This is why I used a question mark in my comment, as opposed to an exclamation mark. Still, there aren’t a lot of folks I’ve read who feel the Cano signing is a sustainable move for Seattle. On a good day, they’re a comp for the Giants, not the Dodgers/Angels/Yankees.

    • Zachary 2 years ago

      I’m sorry but your math is incomplete. The Mariners are still under last years commitments. If they are increasing budget as they have said, there is room. Less guessing, more facts.

    • I Want My Bird 2 years ago

      Quick math:
      Tanaka provides an average attendance boost of say 5,000 across 82 games.
      (I realize he only pitches 30 games, but there is overall benefit to the team)
      Average ticket cost: say $50
      Revenue for first year: $20,500,000
      (not including merch and poss. playoffs)
      After the first year, complete unknown, based on his and the team’s performance.

      • Jeffy25 2 years ago

        You think signing tanaka would give the mariners an additional 5000 fans…per game!!?!?

        How about all year.

        Individual players don’t make that sort of attendance boost.

        They don’t even sell out when Felix pitches. Tanaka is not going to have that sort of affect.

        Oh, and merch is a shared revenue of all mlb teams.

        • MB923 2 years ago

          I visited Seattle in 2012 and was able to see 2 games in Safeco on that trip. 1 on a Saturday, 1 on a Monday. The Monday game was pitched by King Felix, it was the game after his perfect game. It was a sell out and it was one of the loudest games I had ever been to. The Saturday game was not even close to a sellout and the crowd, while not quiet, wasn’t all that loud

          So I have to disagree with you when you say individual players don’t make a boost, especially pitchers.

          • Thechairman66 2 years ago

            Post hoc ergo propter hoc

          • MB923 2 years ago

            That still doesn’t prove my point wrong or faulty.

          • Thechairman66 2 years ago

            Logical fallacies don’t disprove conclusions they disprove the validity of the argument.

    • Benjamin Caspersen 2 years ago

      they got 2 billion for 17 years

    • Jeffrey 1 year ago

      I happened into this post by accident. I wanted to highlight that you said “Matt Cain money.” Well, he blew past that … by $30M! Unreal.

      I would have agreed with you a month ago. Funny how this whole thing developed.

  2. I Want My Bird 2 years ago

    I’m just fascinated how so many teams need this relative unknown for their on-field and public relations future. Yankees, goes without saying they need a stud in their rotation. Mariners, to bolster the Cano signing. Cubs, to show hope for the future. It just goes on and on. I don’t remember this kind of background when Darvish was getting bid on, and everybody says he’s not quite what Darvish is. There are going to be some teams having to pick up the pieces when a decision is made.

    • I think he’s a far better bet than your average AAA prospect looking forward to a breakout MLB season. I’ll be surprised if he’s worth the nine figures he’s going to get though. It really speaks to the “need pitching now” mentality of teams this offseason.

      • Dale Pearl 2 years ago

        You are right. I don’t think he’ll be a bust but I think it is almost impossible for this guy to earn the money that is going to be thrown at him.

        • Tony Matias 2 years ago

          This is all interesting, but there’s a point that nobody has picked up on with Tanaka potentially to Seattle and that is… if Tanaka not only wants the money, but he ALSO wants the statistics, he should seriously consider Seattle because most of the clubs vying for his services are hitters parks. Seattle is not. Then you throw in all the Japanese ties, Iwakuma, more money than people expect Seattle to spend and it being closest to his home country and Seattle has a lot to offer this particular player.

          I know some Yankees fans are counting Seattle out with Tanaka, but don’t count them out just yet and certainly don’t sleep on the “sanity” of a GM who has a fire under him and his job and his willingness to go all out.

          • Max Jackson 2 years ago

            Also not to forget that Washington doesn’t charge state tax. This was a major decision factor for Choo signing in Texas rather than NY.

    • pft2 2 years ago

      When Darvish was being bid on the Dodgers owner was bankrupt, the Yankees did not see the need and the Red Sox had just signed Agon and Crawford and were reeling from Chicken and Beergate. Teams like the Angels and Tigers were focused on offense and signing Pujols and Fielder to huge deals. Also, the TV money explosion was just beginning.

      The bidding process under the old system was a rather abrupt affair with one winner being annouced. After a team won the posting bid, they basically owned the player for whatever they wanted to pay, unlike the new system where teams compete with each other for the player in the same manner as in free agency.

      This year every team has an additional 25 million to spend just from the National TV money, and many have more due to huge increases in regional TV money, and others have revenue sharing rebates for being under 189.

      With players like Hughes getting 3/24 million for having a 5+ERA pitching and a bunch of unattractive free agents looking for 100+ million, pitching is in short supply and expensive. Tanaka has great numbers in the NBP and is only 25. If you overlook his 1300+ IP workload through age 24 and his declining K rate, he looks good.

  3. lambird17 2 years ago

    I wouldn’t mind the Cards going after him, and then trading another pitcher or two to upgrade in another area. However, the contract will probably be too large for their liking. It isn’t like they’re in dire need of a specific area now, though.

    • Jeffy25 2 years ago

      Where would they upgrade?

      What is there to upgrade?

      Signing tanaka is pointless in St. Louis, and it won’t be happening.

  4. jdsmith84 2 years ago

    “I suspect that Tanaka’s list of suitors will be much larger than just
    these clubs, however. I’m not talking about just the ever-popular
    “mystery team” or two — the list should, frankly, include almost every
    team in Major League Baseball. ”

    This article is pointless. The preceding paragraph could have been written word for word substituting Cano for Tanaka two months ago. Of course every team in baseball would love to have him in their rotation, but when the cost to sign him is ultimately going to be north of $100 million their are MAYBE 10 teams that believe they have a realistic chance of doing so.

    • MaximusMansteel 2 years ago

      I just think the point the writer is getting at is why wouldn’t a team put up the $20 mill to negotiate with him. If they don’t get him, they’re not out any money. Yeah, many small market teams might know they it is unlikely he signs with them, but at least now they can have a seat at the table.

      • jdsmith84 2 years ago

        Sure, I get that. But every team has that same chance with every other free agent. The restructured posting system doesn’t give the Pirates or the Indians any more of a chance than they had at signing Cano, Ellsbury, or any other top free agent.

        And as for the Pirates potentially getting involved as mentioned in the article, they are on record as saying they didn’t make Burnett a qualifying offer because they couldn’t fit it in the budget. How could they believe they’re odds of landing Tanaka are anything other than zero?

  5. Tko11 2 years ago

    So teams post their $20million bids, Tanaka chooses one and has to negotiate with that team? What happens if they can’t agree on a contract?

    • jjs91 2 years ago

      The teams don’t post bids anymore. Everyone can negotiate and then must be willing to pay the 20 after he signs.

      • Tko11 2 years ago

        Ohh so they just pay the $20million after he signs, that makes sense. So he’s basically a free agent whose former team gets compensation.

        • northsfbay 2 years ago

          MLBTR states that 20 mil is the max posting fee. If more than 1 team bids the max posting fee, Tanaka can negotiate with the teams that post the max fee.

          • Sam 2 years ago

            ^^^right^^^ there are going to be many players that will be posted but are not going to be worth paying a 20 mil posting fee so that is when the bid system will determine which club has the interest and thus will be awarded negotiating rights. Tanaka is just a case where the max bid is a given.

      • Matt 2 years ago

        That would make no sense at all. there is still a bidding system, so common sense says that you have to make the max bid BEFORE you negotiate with him, becuase that is the only way you can gain the right to negotiate with him.

        • Tko11 2 years ago

          So there is or isnt a bidding system? lol. If there is then what happens once he chooses which bidding team he wants to negotiate with and then they dont agree to terms?

          • jjs91 2 years ago

            “MLB spokesman says teams do not have to place a formal $20M bid. They
            simply must be willing to pay Rakuten $20M if they sign Tanaka.”

          • Mike LaRose 2 years ago

            There is a bidding system, the cap is $20 mil, which he will clearly hit but if it were a lesser player a team can bid less to negotiate. If the team who wins the bid fails to sign him, he goes back to Japan, I believe if he still has team control there, and has to be reposted.

          • Tko11 2 years ago

            So then he can’t be reposted until next offseason? Or would they be able to repost him right away?

          • Mike LaRose 2 years ago

            It would have to be next offseason.

          • CubsFan5 2 years ago

            All of the teams that post the $20 million CAN negotiate with Tanaka. There is no bid system anymore.

          • pft2 2 years ago

            Not really a bidding system anymore. His team has set 20 million as the fee (the maximum allowed). If you agree to pay 20 million to his team if you sign him, you can negotiate with Tanaka. Tanaka makes the decision on who to sign with as any other free agent does. His only limitation is he has to deal with teams who have agreed to pay his old team 20 million once he is signed

        • jjs91 2 years ago

          I’m not sure how your way makes more sense. This way works out best for the actual player and doesn’t change anything for the team.

          • Scott 2 years ago

            The process is very simple. 3 steps. The Japanese club sets their release fee, which can be up to $20 million. The player then has 30 days as a free agent to negotiate with any club. The signing club pays the Japanese team the fee that had been set.

            That’s it. MLB teams don’t bud, the Japanese club can’t change their number after posting, it’s the 3 steps outlined above.

  6. tackett44 2 years ago

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the bidding gets up north of 130 million in total value.

    • Which is just nutty, when you think about it. That’s giving Matt Cain money to the equivalent of a Zack Wheeler level prospect.

      • Tko11 2 years ago

        If you consider the Japanese league equivalent to AAA then he is a better prospect than Wheeler.

        • I agree – but is he worth front of the rotation for an upper mid market team type money? I mean, I realize the money in baseball has inflated by about 30% since the Dodgers figured out where the cash button was hidden… but 9 figures for an MLB rookie is exuberant.

          • Puig Power 2 years ago

            The Dodgers have signed Grienke last year and some roleplayers. The big spenders have been Seattle and New York.

          • GRN_ 2 years ago

            Grienke , Ryu , overpaying like crazy for League , trading for the big money contracts of Gonzalez , crawford and beckett the year previous…Come on man lol

          • Puig Power 2 years ago

            Trading for contracts does not reflect on the value of FA contracts, which was the point that the previous poster made. Purchasing a reliever to a hideous contract, and signing an ace pitcher and a foreign contract doesn’t begin to touch what the Yankees have done this offseason alone. In fact, the Dodgers might have reached their limit at this point, evidenced by their fairly quiet offseason. Who knows.

          • Chris Koch 2 years ago

            Dodgers extended Kemp, signed Grienke, Ryu, Puig, this Guerrero guy vs Cano, JP Howell, Brian Wilson, Gave Billingsley an extension. That is a ton of money guaranteed that likely outnumbers the bottom 5 in team payroll for the next 5years

          • Damon Oliver 2 years ago

            Pretty sure you mean exorbitant.

          • No, though that would also be true. I was thinking in terms of “irrational exuberance”, e.g. the .com boom/bust of the early 2000s.

      • northsfbay 2 years ago

        The teams that are desperate for a front line starting pitcher, would be more willing to take a chance on Tanaka.

  7. jdsmith84 2 years ago

    The only thing that changes in this system is that a bigger percentage of the total contract counts against the luxury tax, which is a slight benefit to teams not operating at or near the luxury tax threshold. Other than that, I don’t see how this suddenly makes a team like the Royals or Orioles willing to dish out a $100+ million contract when they haven’t shown a willingness to go anywhere near there this offseason. The capped posting fee doesn’t really change the total outlay of dollars that is going to be required to sign him.

  8. 王威評 2 years ago

    Every team wants him, but people should think from Tanaka’s point of view instead

    He is going to get paid regardless, lets say he got 7yr/125M from Yankees, 6yr/100M from west coast teams like angels/dodgers/mariners.
    I guess he picks one of those west coast teams.

    1. Closer to home and his recently married wife who is an idol in Japan.
    2. Pitchers park to boost his number to go for another big contract at 31yr old

    Unless he got a blown away offer from Yankee or Cubs…

    • Jason J. Shaw 2 years ago

      Does an extra hour or two on top of a 10 hour flight really make much difference? I think whether or not he can get direct flights from the city he chooses would be more significant.

  9. pft2 2 years ago

    “Other” came in 2nd because the Red Sox and Mariners were not included in the poll.

    Also, I may be wrong, but I believe it was the NPB who initiated a change of the old system under pressure from its players union and after a posted player last year went unsigned because Oakland did not offer the player a big enough contract since most of their budget was tied up for the posting fee if the player signed. MLB then modified the NPB proposal to cap the posting fee and allow it to be paid in 3 installments under pressure from small market owners..

    Furthermore, posted players never got “lucrative” contracts under the old system because the team that won the bidding had a monopoly over his services. There was no competition, the player was faced with a take it or leave it contract. Neither Daisuke or Darvish got more than 56 million for 6 years. Igawa actually got less than his team (20 million vs 26 million for the posting fee) . Tanaka will get twice what Darvish and Daisuke got and have his choice of teams to select from.

  10. Dale Pearl 2 years ago

    Let me rain on your parade Mark. Mashahiro Tanaka’s primary pitch is a split finger fastball. Wicked pitch. Many major league teams will not have anything to do with a split finger fastball pitcher due to the belief by many doctors and organizations that the split finger fastball as a pitch causes abnormal wear and tear on a pitchers arm and on top of that they typically lose velocity relatively fast. So there are probably about 10 teams out there that will not sign a pitcher that throws the pitch in his arsenal.

  11. Eslva917 2 years ago

    Hope the Dodgers stay out of this one.

    • MilkMeMore 2 years ago

      honestly i just wished dodgers didnt sign haren to a vesting option. just because i dont like wishing ill on a player and also because zach doesnt have an opening if they get tanaka.

  12. MetsEventually 2 years ago

    Why not Zoidberg?

  13. Benjamin Caspersen 2 years ago

    I have a feeling if Tanaka goes to the yankees the ball park could be a problem for him and give up too many HR not saying its going to happened but i would be worried .

    • MB923 2 years ago

      That goes for all pitchers, especially Phil Hughes.

      HR/9 Home – 1.69
      HR/9 Away – 0.86

      That is a Huge difference

  14. northsfbay 2 years ago

    It is unknown how high teams will go on the bidding and who Tanaka wants to play for. Who knows? Everyone thought Cano would go back to the Yankees. Tanaka may want to play on the west coast, he many want to play in a pitchers park and he may want to play for a contender.

    • Anthony Hughes 2 years ago

      Right, or he may not want to join a rotation that already has an established ace; maybe he wants to be the headliner. We have no idea. The only thing I’m confident of is that he isn’t just going to go to the team that offers the most money. He’s going to go where he feels the most comfortable, assuming that team’s offer is at least competitive.

  15. Allismileo 2 years ago

    Under the new bidding system is MLB going to make public every team that posted for Tanaka?

  16. Jay Sanders 2 years ago

    Why would a 25 year old Tanaka want to play with a bunch of 40 year olds on the Yankees in an extreme hitters park?

  17. Sam 2 years ago

    Great article! This is like the mystery team on steroids!

  18. Sam 2 years ago

    For some reason, I just can’t see this headline, “Astros to sign Masahiro Tanaka” I hope I’m wrong because that would set the baseball world on fire!!!

  19. Cubstein 2 years ago

    Come on now does anyone understand anything about economics. These owners aren’t going to spend this extra “National TV Contract” moneythey have. Theoretically teams are already spending at an amount which maximizes their profits. Will throwing the additional 50 or so million in National TV money net them AT LEAST another 50 million? The Answer is a big NO. These are still businessmen trying to run a successful business, they aren’t going to spend money that’s not going to come back to them with at least as great a return.

    Instead when these articles keep bringing up National TV rights it just keeps adding fuel to the baseless argument of some fans that their team will spend 50 million more than last year because of this extra revenue.

    • Thechairman66 2 years ago

      Agreed.

      This article also overlooks the fact that some teams have much more TV revnue than others. I’m an Indians fan, a small market team with recent success that needs a starting pitcher. Assumedly this argument applies more to them than any other team. Yet it doesn’t work.

      Our budget for this year is $85M. Factoring in arbitration raises and other holes we had approximately $10 million to spend. We went into the offseason with several holes. Given basic cost benefit analysis, spending $10M to plug 2 of three holes makes more sense than breaking our budget, unrealistic from a business’s point of view anyways, and spending $20M to fill one of three holes. (And even this sceanario assumes owners can just spend more money if they want.)

      My point is that finite resources will always result in teams trying to maximize the benefit of the money they have to spend. For small market teams their optimal solution will often be to invest funds into multiple areas rather than sinking all of your eggs into one basket.

  20. pft2 2 years ago

    His declining K rate is worrisome. At age 22 he had a 9.6 K/9 so may be feeling some effects from that high workload of over 1300 IP through age 24.

    Besides the difference in the ball that bothered Daisuke due to his smaller hands, and the lower seams, you have to pitch every 5 days and not every 7 days. Pitchers have to learn a whole new routine between starts.

    Darvish has made the adjustment. Daisuke could not. Also, Tanaka’s FB is usually between 90-92, so he does not have much room for decline, and pitchers do lose velocity as they age. Of course, Koji does fine at age 38 with a 88 mph FB, but he only pitches 1-2 innings at a time. Kuroda lost a bit off his FB at the end of last year and got beat up..

  21. Leftover_stew 2 years ago

    NPB changed the ball size a couple years ago. Its an MLB sized ball.

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