Masahiro Tanaka wants to pitch in the majors. His team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, prefers their ace to stay in Japan.
Hanging in the balance are the Yankees, along with plenty of other potential suitors, and a decision is imminent after Tanaka spoke Tuesday with Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana.
"I informed my team that I would like them to allow me to test my abilities in Major League Baseball next season,'' Tanaka said at a news conference after meeting with Tachibana.
Tachibana's response? "We told him he is very important to us and we'd like him to stay.''
The tug-of-war over Tanaka's future began with the revised posting system for Japanese players, which was discussed for months but not completed until Monday. The assumption had always been that Rakuten would post Tanaka in November, profit from a substantial bid that some projected could approach $100 million, and Tanaka would sign with a U.S. team, as Yu Darvish did with the Rangers in 2012.
But all that changed as soon as MLB introduced the idea of a cap on compensation available to Japanese clubs, and Rakuten was understandably upset when the agreed-upon figure became a "release fee'' that could not exceed $20 million. The Rangers paid $51.7 million to the Nippon Ham Fighters for the negotiating rights to Darvish, who signed a six-year, $56-million contract.
Under these new rules, the compensation has been flipped. Instead of the Japanese team benefiting from a bidding war, the player is now free to negotiate with any MLB club willing to put up the maximum release fee. Tanaka, in this free-agent environment, would be expected to easily surpass Darvish and maybe get close to $100 million.
General manager Sandy Alderson said it was "very unlikely'' the Mets would be in the hunt for Tanaka after spending nearly $90 million, including $20 million on Bartolo Colon. But Alderson does believe a Tanaka posting would have big repercussions in the industry.
"I think more teams will be involved,'' Alderson said. "I think what will happen is the posting fee has gone down, the compensation to the player will go up, and that's good for the rest of baseball because it impacts the [luxury] tax. I think it will be interesting to see whether the total dollars go up or down.''
That's the tricky part for the Yankees, whose efforts to stay below the $189-million luxury-tax threshold for next season were hurt seriously by the revised posting system. The release fee, like the secret bids of the past, does not count against a team's payroll. But with a smaller payout to the Japanese club, and the possibility of many more teams to negotiate, the contract for a player like Tanaka is likely to be more expensive.
The Yankees, badly in need of rotation help, scouted Tanaka many times during the summer, according to a source, and intend to make a serious push to sign him. Andy Pettitte's retirement leaves only three established starters -- CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova.
"I think we still have Michael [Pineda] coming back,'' Sabathia said Tuesday night. "We signed Hiro back. I'm sure they'll go out and patch in a few other guys and see who can fill those spots. We'll see what happens.''
Tanaka was supposed to provide a shortcut, a way to throw more money at a problem and fix it. But after doling out more than $320 million to free agents this offseason, and likely needing relief from Alex Rodriguez's $25-million salary to have any shot of staying below $189 million, the Yankees have a few decisions to make now, too.
With Will Sammon