Masahiro Tanaka: The Posting Price is Right

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So, Masahiro Tanaka may or may not be posted.

If he is, the new posting agreement between the Nippon League and Major League Baseball will make him much more available than he would've been a year ago. It might not be the best situation for Tanaka's current team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but the limitations on posting fees will make their ace a more realistic option to a larger portion of the American game.

Teams like the Astros and Diamondbacks could make a legitimate push for Tanaka under the new system. In the past, the actual bidding took place during the posting phase of the NPB to MLB transition. In other words, clubs would compete for negotiating rights of the posted player with his NPB team. Then, they could work out an actual contract.

Negotiating to negotiate ... or something like that.

Now that the posting phase has become a simple "yes" or "no" response to the standardized cap of up to $20 million, the bids from MLB teams will be hurled directly at Tanaka. While that effectively takes money out of Nippon League pockets, it also brings a more level playing field to the stateside end of the process. Whether the new system is fair or not is another story altogether ...

So who is this mystery man of the Rising Sun?

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SCOUTING REPORT

Age: 25 | Height: 6'2 | Weight: 205 | Career ERA: 2.30 | Record: 99-35

Masahiro Tanaka has been one of, if not, the best pitcher in Japan since Yu Darvish made the trans-Pacific jump in 2012. He has been compared to Darvish for their situational similarities, but as a pitcher, Tanaka is more comparable to Hiroki Kuroda or Koji Uehara. If you allow yourself to compare him to non-Asian pitchers, a guy like Dan Haren could come to mind, since all four of the above rely heavily on their splitter to get batters out.

Tanaka doesn't throw 100 miles an hour or drop his curveball off the edge of the planet like Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright. Instead, his fastball sits at around 91 MPH (though he has cranked it up to as high as 96 in the past), and his curve is more of a change-of-pace pitch that he tends to use sparingly. His strongest pitches are his splitter (or forkball, depending on who you ask), a hard slider, and his two-seam fastball (sometimes classified as a "shuuto"). His splitter has probably been his best pitch to date, often turning Nippon League hitters into spectators. He typically throws his slider for strikes rather than looking for swings out of the zone, clocking in with it at about 83 MPH on average, and can dominate hitters from both sides of the plate. Clint Hulsey (credited below, and really, throughout) compares Tanaka's two-seam fastball to Tim Lincecum's, in terms of velocity. The pitch can resemble a sinker at times, breaking armside and down.

Gaudy strikeout numbers like Darvish's might not be likely for Tanaka in the majors. He's gotten his fair share of whiffs, but his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last three seasons for the Eagles, despite having a career NPB K/9 very similar Darvish's (8.5 and 8.9 respectively). That decline in strikeouts didn't stop Tanaka from absolutely terrorizing his competition. Over the last three years, he's posted ERAs of 1.27, 1.87, and 1.27 in 76 total starts.

Oh, and sure, wins are overrated, but Tanaka went 24-0 for the Eagles in 2013. That probably means something.

The main concerns for Tanaka for me are velocity and future durability. Even though he is trending up in the fastball velocity department and can hit 96 MPH, he doesn't appear to have a consistently plus fastball. He can succeed with the average fastball because of his other weapons ... If his average fastball dips from where it is now, which typically happens as a pitcher gets older, he could find himself in a troubling position ... Will the amount of innings he has already accumulated cause his velocity to dip at a faster rate than a "normal" pitcher might? If so, it may make a long term deal turn out badly ... I think he can pitch in the big leagues and pitch well, probably not at an "ace" level, but at a rate that is above league average and would slot in as a good 2nd best starter on a contending team. Clint Hulsey, I R Fast

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So, the interesting part of the Tanaka negotiations will come after the posting. It will be interesting to see how many teams place the $20 million bid for the right to negotiate with him, but all of the competition for his services will be post-posting. Considering the upside listed in many of his scouting reports, things could get pretty competitive. The rest of the market for impact starters seems to be on hold until Tanaka is signed, but other than trading a plurality of high-end prospects for David Price, Tanaka is the best upgrade available.

The Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Astros, and Dodgers have been well represented in recent Tanaka rumors, but with a relatively communized posting fee in place, dark horse suitors could sneak into the chase.

Whether he's posted this offseason or not, Masahiro Tanaka is poised to become a very rich Major League Baseball player. Rakuten's decision will be made public sometime in the next few days.

Hopefully, we'll be given the gift of watching him pitch in the big leagues.

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