Yankees begin their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hurls the ball

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hurls the ball against the Yomiuri Giants on the way to win the Japan Series professional baseball championship at Sendai in Miyagi. (Nov. 3, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

The Yankees wasted little time in their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka.

On the first day that major-league teams were allowed to begin negotiations with the Japanese pitching star, an industry source said Thursday that the Yankees already have been in contact with Casey Close, whom Tanaka recently designated as his agent. Close is Derek Jeter's longtime agent.

The Yankees' aggressiveness was expected, given their apparent willingness to enter a bidding war for the services of the 25-year-old righthander, who has dominated in Japan during the last few seasons. After going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka is expected to command a contract worth about $100 million.

The Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers are likely candidates to duke it out with the Yankees in the sweepstakes for Tanaka, who has until Jan. 24 to sign a contract if he intends to pitch in the big leagues in 2014.

When Yankees officials eventually reach the negotiating table, they will find a familiar face in Close. He and the Yankees endured a bumpy winter in 2010 when Jeter signed a three-year, $51-million extension, though it came only after the negotiations triggered a public-relations battle. But earlier this offseason, the two sides worked quickly to hash out a one-year deal worth $12 million, a raise over the $9.5 million Jeter would have been due through his player option.

It appeared to be a gesture of goodwill, but it's unclear just how much weight -- if any -- that will carry, especially with a healthy market for Tanaka expected.

Several other suitors could emerge because of recently- adopted changes in the system used to import Japanese players.

Under the old system, clubs submitted blind bids called posting fees, with negotiating rights going exclusively to the highest bidder. The posting fee was set up as compensation for Japanese teams, though only if they lost a player to a big-league club.

Under the new system, blind bids no longer exist. Instead, any team can enter into negotiations with a player as long as the club consents to a $20-million release fee once the player signs.

The new rules essentially make Tanaka a free agent, with a relatively modest surcharge of $20 million on top of the contract he fetches on the market.

The release fee still would be less than the $26-million posting fee the Yankees paid to the Hanshin Tigers in 2006, which paved the way for the ill-fated signing of Kei Igawa.

Thanks to increased competition, the new posting system will make the pursuit of Tanaka more costly for the Yankees, but they seem increasingly willing to bust through their self-imposed, $189-million payroll ceiling.

Part of that desire stems from the Yankees' clear pitching needs. Although they have spent more than $300 million in new player contracts, their rotation remains in need of an established arm to join CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova.

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