ORLANDO, Fla. - One of the Yankees' top offseason targets might not even hit the market.
That very well could be the sobering result of Thursday morning's news at the general managers' and owners' meetings that Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball still haven't agreed on a new posting system.
Since the summer, reports indicated the sides were closing in on an agreement, and over the weekend it was thought an announcement might come this week. It never happened, and now uncertainty surrounds a bidding process the Yankees were hopeful would land them the opportunity to sign stud Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka.
"We certainly like him," managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "He's a great player, without a doubt, so we'll just have to see. I'm sure there will be numerous teams in on him. He'll be a great catch for anybody."
It would be an overstatement to say Tanaka, 25, was the cornerstone to the Yankees' offseason plans, but not by much. Keeping Robinson Cano and signing Tanaka early this offseason emerged as priorities 1A and 1B.
As he left the meetings Thursday, Brian Cashman didn't offer a reaction. "I can't speak to the posting system or him," he said. "It's an MLB issue."
The Yankees are prepared to spend significant money on Tanaka, part of a plan to secure the "400 innings" of starting pitching Cashman said he believes he needs to acquire.
The starting pitching market is relatively weak -- the Yankees have an interest in free agents Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, among others -- and Tanaka is thought of as the ace of the group when, and now if, he is posted this offseason.
"We're not going to get his kind of player on the free-agent market," a club insider said recently of Tanaka.
Cashman referred to the annual gathering as a "necessary evil," though he acknowledged Wednesday night that the 3½ days aren't a waste of time.
"You have to start somewhere," he said. "It's early in the process . . . but you have to hear from the agents about the players that you're not interested in and hear from the agents about the players that want more than you're willing to spend. It's a feeling-out process. That's why it's necessary. It's good to be in front of people, and this platform provides that."
Cashman and others in the Yankees' hierarchy, including Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine, announced the team's return to pursuing top free agents. That for the most part has not been the case the last two winters as the Yankees began implementing their plan to cut payroll to $189 million.
The club has met with the agents for outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Brian McCann. Shortstop Brendan Ryan could return, and infielders Jhonny Peralta and Juan Uribe also are potential targets.
As Cashman said all week: "It's early."