Yes, the entire baseball world is being held hostage by one man: Masahiro Tanaka. And no, no one really knows where he will end up.
Tanaka has to agree to terms with a team by Friday, but reports indicate that he is more likely to do so on Tuesday or Wednesday to give the signing team some time to review medicals. Until then, agents, executives and fans will speculate on where the Japanese right-hander will land--without too much tangible, first-hand information.
One team executive cautions that Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, has kept the process "under a pretty tight seal", and that it is likely that the process will "take a few days to catch up with the media". Teams are always pretty tight-lipped about high-stakes free agents, so not much has transpired on that front either. The most revealing report in the whole process came from Nikkan Sports in Japan over the weekend, stating that the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Yankees had submitted formal offers to Tanaka and were awaiting a decision.
With that said, I asked some contacts around the league if they had heard anything about where Tanaka could end up. Keeping in mind that these are mostly second-hand sources who are not directly involved in the process, here's a roundup of what I was told:
- One agent said that the Yankees, Dodgers and Blue Jays were involved when asked what he had heard about Tanaka. Although reports from Toronto made the Jays seem like an unlikely destination, the agent said that the "Jays are in for sure". He also mentioned that there is talk around the game of the Mariners being heavily involved in the talks.
- Two industry sources noted that they believed the Astros met with Tanaka when he came to the United States, but one cautioned that it was likely just a "due diligence" meeting. It seems unlikely that Houston would make a formal offer to the right-hander, but he could be exactly the big splash they are looking to make.
- One executive and one agent both cautioned that they don't believe that Tanaka will end up with the Diamondbacks, who looked like one of the favorites for a while. The executive said "it's hard to see them winning it", while the agent added that he believes that "Tanaka doesn't want to go there" and would prefer other markets. The agent also noted that he has heard buzz that Tanaka has been consulting with Ichiro throughout the process, which could help the Yankees or Mariners in their pursuits.
- A scout with one of the teams pursuing Tanaka said that he "has a feeling that he will look for that 7th year, or perhaps a contact with some option years." Tanaka is expected to command at least a six-year contract.