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Yankees to be among handful of teams bidding for Masahiro Tanaka

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka celebrates after defeating

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka celebrates after defeating the Yomiuri Giants in Game 7 of the Japan Series in Sendai, northeastern Japan. (Nov. 3, 2013) Photo Credit: AP/Kyodo News

Why did Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka quickly become an offseason priority for the Yankees?

As one club insider put it: "We're not going to get his kind of player on the free-agent market."

A market when it comes to starting pitchers that is considered relatively weak.

General manager Brian Cashman is fond of using the oft-repeated baseball axiom "you can never have enough pitching," and currently, when it comes to the rotation, the Yankees don't have much. Of last season's starting five, just CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are under contract.

The 24-year-old Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.24 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles of the Pacific League in 2013 and is expected to be posted this offseason.

When he is, the Yankees will be among the handful of teams that will bid on him. The total package -- posting fee and contract -- for the winning club is likely to surpass $100 million.

Other potential suitors include the Rangers, Red Sox, Angels and Diamondbacks.

The Yankees have been skeptical about Japanese pitchers since throwing away $46 million on Kei Igawa, but they like what they've seen of Tanaka. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler is among those in the organization who have traveled to Japan to see Tanaka in person.

"Sometimes you have to roll the dice," one team executive said.

Exactly how that translates into money isn't known.

The Rangers paid the Nippon Ham Fighters a record $51.7 million posting fee in January 2012 for Yu Darvish before signing him to a six-year, $60 million contract. Darvish has developed into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and, while the expectations generally aren't quite as high for Tanaka to become that good, most agree the pitcher's stuff will translate to the majors.

"A surefire No. 3, and maybe a 2," one opposing team talent evaluator said of Tanaka, whose fastball consistently reaches the mid-90s.

Another talent evaluator said Tanaka "probably could be as good as Darvish," but added the pitchers are different. He instead compared Tanaka to another Japanese pitcher.

"He's a little like [Hiroki] Kuroda," he said. "Not a nibbler. A really good slider and split. He's not afraid."

The money spent on a posting fee, which gives the winning team an exclusive 30-day negotiating window, doesn't count against a team's payroll, but an agreed-upon contract does. MLB and Japan have been working in recent months to alter the way players are posted -- a new system might give players more of a say of where they end up rather than simply to the highest bidder -- but nothing has been finalized.

Mo, Andy to be honored. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte were voted the Joe DiMaggio Toast of the Town award by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America Wednesday morning and will be honored at the chapter's annual dinner Jan. 25.

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