Masahiro Tanaka: The People and Teams most affected by his posting

Koji Watanabe

The initial drama is over; Masahiro Tanaka is coming to America. For some, he is just another high priced free agent, but to others he could be the key to the offseason.

The Yankees

The Yankees seem like the obvious landing place for Tanaka and they have had their eye on him for some time, according to Marc Carig of NewsdayNew York needs to add an impact arm to replace retiring star Andy Pettitte and departed free agent Phil Hughes in the rotation.

Looking beyond 2014, the team also needs to consider Hiroki Kuroda’s eventual retirement and the possibility of further decline from ace CC Sabathia. Alternatives like Matt Garza and Ervin Santana lack the upside Tanaka brings, so the Yankees are positioned to go big for the latest star out of the Far East.

The decision to chase Tanaka will not be so simple for GM Brian Cashman and his front office, however. To land the former Rakuten Golden Eagle ace, the Yankees will have to give up on their goal of coming in under the luxury tax even if they get a break on Alex Rodriguez’s cost from a season-long suspension, Carig reports and Andy McCullough of the Newark Star-Ledger confirms.

Even without Tanaka, the Yankees might be beyond that threshold if A-Rod wins his battle against MLB over the Biogenesis suspension. If that is the case, they may simply accept their fate and go get the player they want, but it will still be a tough decision. The Yankees' latest spending spree will make it difficult to get under that mark for years to come, and with a roster full of aging veterans and their best prospects just climbing out of the low minors, buying more in 2014 and 2015 seems inevitable.

Had the old posting system remained in place, the Yankees would have been able to spend big for exclusive negotiating rights and then made a less costly deal with Tanaka. This new system means out-bidding everyone willing to pay the modest $20 million fee and getting hit with more on the luxury tax side. The change must have thrown a wrench in the Bombers' offseason playbook. When it looked like Tanaka would not be posted, the Yankees could be content that at least no one else would scoop him up. Now they have to sacrifice their austerity plans and go big or risk losing the guy they covet.

Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez

These three free agents have been almost completely forgotten to this point as the baseball world put shopping for pitchers on hold to see what would happen with Tanaka. Now that it is clear that he really is coming, teams that aren’t interested in the Japanese star might try to move quickly on one these three players. Once Tanaka signs, the battle for Garza, Santana and Jimenez will heat up and it could get intense with so few alternatives available.

Tanaka will also be the one to set the going rate for pitchers in this limited market, so while teams might try to move on one of these three, the players are now the ones likely to hold off for Tanaka to sign. Just a few arms have been signed to this point and none of them have been all that close to the top tier. The Twins' four-year, $49 million deal with Ricky Nolasco is the biggest contract for a free agent pitcher so far this winter, and teams have to pay almost 41 percent of that price just to get Tanaka out of Japan. Once the total cost for Tanaka is on someone's books, these three players can point to that price and adjust their own demands accordingly. None of the three are as young or as promising as Tanaka, but they all have track records in the majors and they come without a posting fee.

The Diamondbacks

Arizona GM Kevin Towers might have breathed a sigh of relief when the official announcement of Tanaka’s posting was made. Towers has drawn plenty of criticism for his offseason farm-system sell-off, but adding Tanaka would help turn the Diamondbacks into something more closely resembling a contender in 2014 and make that strategy a bit more understandable, if nothing else. Towers has said that he will not go beyond three years for anyone but Tanaka and if he holds to that, it might mean missing out on a new starter completely. Now, all he has to do is outbid the Yankees, Dodgers and everyone else in need of pitching and land the top player available.

The Diamondbacks offseason won’t be saved by landing Tanaka. Only stellar seasons from Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed combined with some unforeseeable mojo that helps to elevate the mediocre 2013 team to the level of wild card contenders like the Reds, Nationals and Pirates for 2014 will do that. However, not landing Tanaka might be more of a disaster for the Diamondbacks than for any other bidder. Even if Towers sold high on Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton and Mark Davidson this winter, he sold them at what appears to be a below-market rate. The players he got back for them probably won’t do as much to put Arizona in contention as the addition of Tanaka can.

The effort to win now in Arizona doesn’t seem very rational, but with Tanaka as the next piece, it at least appears possible. If Towers can win the bidding, a few smart moves aimed at the right places could make the difference.

The Mariners

Seattle seems like a natural landing spot for Tanaka on the surface. They have had great success with Japanese players like Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma in the past. Their Northwestern locale is a positive for players out of land of the rising sun instead of the negative it is reported to be for Latin America players. The Mariners need another pitcher and no one would look better in a rotation that already features Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma than Tanaka. The only thing that makes them look like long shots to land him is their apparent lack of interest to this point, as Scott Weber of Lookout Landing discusses in detail:

"The Seattle Mariners? Not so much as a whisper. Though they've been loosely linked to Tanaka before, scouting him and getting a few mentions here and there along the way, they have remained very quiet in pursuit…[snip]… connections to the Japanese ace are getting few and far between."

If the Mariners are going to make a big push for Tanaka, their silence concerning him is downright impressive. If they take no part in the bidding, the arrival of Japan’s best pitcher could still be a key moment for Seattle. They have expressed interest in Ervin Santana recently and he and Garza are fantastic fits for a team that plays their home games in a place that suppresses left-handed home runs so efficiently. If they can strike while the Great Pinstriped Eye in the East is focused on Tanaka and avoid paying a premium for one of the other options on the market, it will be a stroke of genius.

The Cubs

When I looked ahead to the offseason, back at the start of November, I envisioned two ways the Cubs could shape the happenings this winter: they could jump into the battle for a number of top free agents, using their big-market muscle and low overhead to rebuild quickly or they could abstain almost completely, holding all of the money from one of the biggest fan-bases in the game out of the market. Sadly, for Cubs fans and for this year's free agents, GM Jed Hoyer has opted for the second route so far, but Masahiro Tanaka's posting might change that.

The Cubs GM has done an impressive job of rebuilding their farm system in short order, using short-term, mid-market free agent signings like Scott Feldman in trades for young talent. The next Cubs contender is still years away, however, and that is probably what has kept Chicago out of the market for players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano. Tanaka is different, however, because he is just 25 and should still be in his prime right as players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez begin to breakout. While the other bidders are hoping to land Tanaka to win now, the Cubs are playing a longer game and that could mean a willingness to go more years to win the bidding.

Nippon Professional Baseball

The new posting system likely cost Rakuten more than $30 million with the imposition of a cap on the fee, but the migration of NPB stars to Major League Baseball is costing the league as a whole far more. Speaking to Ken Bolton of the New York Times, Japanese Baseball expert Robert Whiting reports:

"[Japanese teams] are becoming a feeder system for the MLB…[snip]…Japanese pro baseball has all but disappeared from prime time network television."

The decline in ratings and television presence for the most second most lucrative baseball league in the world is a victory for MLB in one sense, because it is broadcasts of their games starring ex-NPB players like Yu Darvish that are taking over Japanese TV sets, but the decline of baseball in Japan is not a good thing for fans of the game in general. In a world dominated by professional soccer, Japan is a rare ally for the U.S. in our efforts to spread our National Pastime. NPB will never have the resources or the status to rival MLB in bidding for top talent, but its lofty status among other international leagues has been good for the game and there is little long-term benefit to seeing that diminished. That is not a forgone conclusion, but the Tanaka posting and the way that the system was revised certainly makes the Japanese league appear helpless in the face of MLB interests.

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