It may be Christmas Eve, yet all around baseball's front offices, the real holiday shopping season may just be heating up.
Now that the Rakuten Golden Eagles will officially post Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, a slew of big-league teams are expected to bid for the righthander's services, and the pitching-starved Yankees expect to be aggressive in their pursuit.
Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana made the announcement Tuesday night, according to multiple reports, ending the long back-and-forth that had left the pitcher's status in limbo.
Tanaka is expected to command roughly $100 million, with bidding expected to be driven up by the Dodgers, Rangers, Cubs, Diamondbacks and the Yankees, who have extensively scouted the righthander.
Tanaka is considered one of the crown jewels of the offseason. The 25-year-old went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 and led the Golden Eagles to the Japan Series title.
With the Yankees, he would be an ideal fit. According to people with knowledge of the team's thinking, Tanaka has long been an attractive target, especially with a rotation that could use an impact arm. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have just three established starters in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova.
Making a serious bid for Tanaka all but assures that the Yankees will blow past their self-imposed payroll target of $189 million, regardless of whether the team gets salary relief if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for part or all of next season. The Yankees appear prepared to exceed the threshold as they enter a bidding war that will only become more costly under the new posting season put in place this winter.
Rakuten controlled Tanaka's rights through 2015 season, but under the new posting system between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, U.S. teams can bid up to $20 million for the right to negotiate with Tanaka. If multiple teams tie for the high bid, they can all deal with Tanaka. Only the team that Tanaka agrees to go to actually has to pay the $20 million "release fee" to Rakuten. The fee does not count against a team's luxury tax bill.
Because the new release fee is low enough to entice even small market teams to bid, Tanaka will essentially enter the market as a free agent, making the Yankees' goal of landing the talented righthander an even more expensive proposition.
There had been speculation that Rakuten would hold onto their star due to the financial incentives gained by remaining competitive and using Tanaka as a crowd draw. Tanaka had previously said that he wanted to "test his abilities" in the U.S.
MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball ratified the new posting system during the offseason, which limited posting fees to the $20 million. Prior to the agreement, there was no limit and Tanaka was expected to command a posting fee of $50 million or more.