The status of one of the best pitchers not currently signed to a Major League contract has been up in the air the entire off-season, but with Yozo Tachibana, president of Nippon Professional Baseball's Rakuten Golden Eagles arriving in Orlando on Tuesday, we may finally learn if Masahiro Tanaka is coming to America for the 2014 season, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
The 25-year-old Tanaka has been projected as a number-two starter in the majors and Passan even has sources that see him as a potential ace, thanks to his "devastating" splitter. He expected to draw interest from the Yankees, Dodgers, Mariners and Angels if he is made available, but the newly-adopted posting system has caused the Eagles to reconsider posting their ace. Under the previous system, a silent auction allowed teams to win the exclusive rights to posted players, producing bids in excess of $50 million dollars for top players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. The new system limits bids to $20 million and allows for competition between bidders who match the maximum bid. Rakutan would have almost certainly received a fee close to those paid for Darvish and Matsuzaka if the new system had not been put in place this off-season, so their incentives for posting have been dramatically reduced.
As a result, there are now conflicting reports as to whether or not the team will allow the pitcher to be posted as he wishes. Passan reports that there is "rancor within Rakuten over the system" and iconoclastic owner Hiroshi Mikitani may not simply follow tradition and post Tanaka to honor the player's request. He has one source who is certain Tanaka is coming and another who says he isn't. He believes there is even some potential for an under-the-table deal, but how such a transaction would operate now that there is an open market for Tanaka beyond the posting bid is unclear.
MLB teams in need of pitching and free agent pitchers both have to hope that the Rakutan clubs president's trip to the winter meetings resolves the issue for good. If Tanaka is not posted, teams will have to move to free agent's like Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. But with the potential for a superior option still dangling out there, the market for free agent pitching appears to have stagnated for the moment.