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Yankees, other teams can start courting star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka Thursday

Japan's Masahiro Tanaka throws against the Netherlands in

Japan's Masahiro Tanaka throws against the Netherlands in the fifth inning of the second-round Pool 1 game in the World Baseball Classic tournament at Tokyo Dome. (March 12, 2013) Credit: Getty

The Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes will officially begin this morning, according to a source. That's when big- league teams can begin courting the star Japanese pitcher through baseball's revamped posting system.

The pitching-starved Yankees intend to be aggressive in their pursuit of Tanaka, though they surely won't be alone. The Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers are among several clubs that also are expected to go after the 25-year-old righthander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA while helping the Rakuten Golden Eagles to the Japan Series championship.

Tanaka is essentially a free agent under the newly adopted posting system, which allows him to negotiate with any team willing to pay a $20-million release fee to Rakuten. The fee will only be paid out by the team that ultimately signs Tanaka.

In addition to the $20-million fee, Tanaka likely will command a contract worth in excess of $100 million. The negotiating window will last for 30 days, ending on the afternoon of Jan. 24, according to the source.

However, Tanaka should have his pick of suitors and is expected to sign before the deadline arrives.

The Yankees have long coveted Tanaka and have scouted him extensively in Japan. With a vacancy in the starting rotation, Tanaka would be a natural fit for the Yankees, who might sign the pitcher even if it means busting through their self-imposed payroll ceiling of $189 million.

New York Sports