Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka is expected to command a deal worth at least $17 million annually, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
A contract of that magnitude is unprecedented for someone who's never thrown a major-league pitch, but appears to be fait accompli given the current pitching market and the new posting rules. In the old days, when one team had exclusive negotiating rights with a posted player, it could hold the prospect of returning to Japan with significantly less money over the player's head. Now, however, you have multiple teams openly vying for the postee, shifting the leverage to Tanaka and whoever follows him.
Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings for Rakuten in 2013, and he's the youngest free-agent starter available by a full five years, so his high price makes a certain amount of sense. The scouting reports haven't been as high on the 25-year-old as they were on Yu Darvish when he made the jump across the Pacific, however, so it'll be interesting to see just how much teams are willing to gamble.
It is unknown how many years Tanaka is seeking, or how long term teams will be open to going, but anything over three years will be easily the biggest contract handed to a pitcher this winter. If a club were to go five years at the alleged $17 million minimum, for instance, it would have to cough up $85 million. That estimate is probably on the low end, as one GM told Fox Sports' Gabe Kapler he expects a deal in the range of six years, $105 million. Add the $20 million "release fee" that is owed the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and the contract starts entering Matt Cain/Cole Hamels territory.
The New York Yankees -- who else? -- have already demonstrated that Tanaka's high price tag won't keep them from making a run at him. The club reportedly reached out to his agent, Casey Close, on Thursday, per Marc Carig of Newsday, just a few hours after Tanaka's 30-day negotiating window opened. The Bombers have made several high-profile signings this winter, but have done little to restock their rotation outside of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda. At the moment, the Yanks have Kuroda, Ivan Nova, an aging C.C. Sabathia -- who is coming off his worst season in the bigs -- a supposedly healthy Michael Pineda, and maybe David Phelps to fill out the rotation.
While there hasn't been word of anyone else contacting Tanaka's reps yet, there's sure to be a boatload of teams involved in negotiations over the next month. The Angels, Cubs, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are widely regarded to be potential landing spots, and reports surfaced Friday morning that the Mariners will be "a factor" in the discussions. So far as uninterested clubs go, the Orioles are said to not be in the running, and the Red Sox have shown "no sign" of being interested at this point, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe.
All clubs have until January 24 to work out a deal with Tanaka.