Learning Nothing About Masahiro Tanaka

So here’s a thing that happened today:

Yeah! Give me all of the Tanaka! This multi-headed rotation monster can’t be stopped! The 2014 Dodgers are going to win 207 games and 14 World Series titles!

Oh, what’s that?

Got it. So basically, we’ve learned absolutely nothing new today. The Dodgers have interest in Masahiro Tanaka, as we already knew. They’re almost certainly going to offer him a ton of dollars, though we don’t yet know if it will be all of the dollars. And even if they do, it might very well come down to whether or not he prefers to be in Los Angeles or Seattle or Boston or New York or elsewhere.

So nothing’s changed, really. We’re about 30 minutes past there being two weeks remaining until Tanaka’s deadline comes due at 5pm ET on January 24, and you can be all but certain that you won’t know where he’s going until the very last minute… which again, we already knew.

This concludes your regular “disregard 99% of what writers tweet about teams or players having ‘interest’” update.

It’s Tanaka Time

tanaka_japan_wbcSo, as usual, I go away for a few days, and nothing interesting happened. Or, wait, the other thing: Chris Perez and Jamey Wright are now Dodgers, and other than filling out a backup infielder, the 2014 roster seems pretty much set.

That is, with the possible exception of Masahiro Tanaka, who is now finally posted and free to come to America. This is yesterday’s news, obviously, but there’s only so much writing you can get done while attempting to fly home on Christmas Day.

Now you know the Dodgers will likely have interest, and you know why: adding a pitcher like Tanaka to a rotation that already has Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren would just be beyond beastly. It’d cost money — lots of it — but would at least put an end to the speculation about sending Corey Seager, Zach Lee, Joc Pederson, and the legacy of Jackie Robinson to Tampa Bay for David Price.

Frankly, I think the Yankees are the favorite here simply because they need him so badly, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get him. Who knows, really. Perhaps Tanaka prefers to play on the West Coast in order to make travel to Japan easier, and if so, that strongly helps the Dodgers (as well as the Mariners, Angels, etc.) Either way, expect the Dodgers to be tied closely to Tanaka over the next month — especially because Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, also represents Kershaw & Greinke, among others.

As for the specifics, the posting period begins today and runs through 5pm (ET) on Friday, January 24. Remember, this isn’t a “posting” in the way we’ve known it for years thanks to the new agreement; the easiest way to think about it is that Tanaka is a free agent just like anyone else, other than the fact that he’ll come with a $20m tax that has to go to Rakuten.

One interesting wrinkle, however:

That means there isn’t going to be a list of 8 or 12 or 16 or however many teams who qualified to negotiate. It means that all 30 teams can talk to Tanaka, and while not all will do so seriously, it’s going to make the next month a whirlwind. Strap in.

Give Us All Of The Tanaka, Please

tanaka_japan_wbc

After a whirldwind of rumors about the new posting agreement between MLB and Japan’s NPB that briefly looked like it might include benefits for MLB teams with poor records — sorry, Astros fans! — we’re finally gaining some clarity on what the system will be.

Rather than the old “blind bid” system, where teams would have to submit dollar figures to even gain the right to speak to the player (which sometimes led to one team massively outbidding everyone else, since no one knew what the competition was doing), it appears that the two sides have set a $20m maximum bid on the posting process. (Teams don’t have to bid up to $20m, and for lesser players they won’t, but for Masahiro Tanaka, they obviously will.) In the case of multiple teams bidding, then the player is free to negotiate with any of the teams that submitted the maximum number.

That’s a huge win for MLB, which will spend less on posting, and for Japanese players, who now get some amount of say over where they want to go and will likely get more of the money. It’s seemingly a big loss for NPB, since posting fees were getting up into the $60m range for top players. (Many have asked why in the world NPB would agree to this, and to be honest, I don’t know. It’s been floated that perhaps MLB would have just backed out of an agreement altogether, meaning posting fees would be zero.)

So how does this affect the Dodgers? It’s not particularly great for bigger teams, because the shift in money from posting fee to salary (presumably) means that more of it is going to be a hit on the luxury tax. Perhaps the Dodgers don’t care, and so far they haven’t; it’s still not great.

This also means that more teams are going to be in on Tanaka than they would have been. Before, there were maybe five to seven teams who could have afforded the posting fee and his contract. Now, there’s literally not a single team in baseball who shouldn’t be in. Since only the team that signs him has to cough up the posting fee, and anyone else who bid keeps their cash, there’s absolutely no risk. You say “oh, sure, $20m,” knowing that you almost certainly won’t have to give it up, but it at least gets you in the game on the off chance that Tanaka has always dreamed of playing in, say, Milwaukee, and you can at least tell your fans you tried. It won’t be 30 teams involved, but it absolutely should be.

Really, for Tanaka, it’s no longer a “posting” in the traditional sense. It’s essentially an open free agent process with a $20m tax — again, that’s very good for the player, and also for smaller market teams, but it does hurt the Dodgers, Yankees, etc., since there will be more competition now.

There’s also the fact that Tanaka’s NPB team, the Golden Eagles, was reportedly the only team to vote against the agreement. They’re under no obligation to post him, and some reports indicate they may not. I don’t believe that they will hold him back, though they could certainly keep him for another season and just collect $20m next winter, too. Or, much less likely, for two more seasons before he’s a real free agent. But based on comments the team’s management has made, I think they’ll end up letting him go now.

Anyway, while this new system — which is not 100% final yet, to be sure — isn’t exactly great for the Dodgers, it hardly counts them out. They’ll bid the $20m to get in the game, as they should, and from there it’s no different than any other free agent. They’ll be able to tell Tanaka that they can pay him more than any other team, unless the Yankees go nuts, and they can pitch him on the pros of Los Angeles and the good history the Dodgers have had with Asian players. Either way, this is far from over.

Let’s Get To Know Masahiro Tanaka

tanaka_japan_wbcEver since the new ownership group took over, the Dodgers have turned their focus back to the sorely neglected international market, with great success. Yasiel Puig & Hyun-jin Ryu were huge pieces of the 2013 team, and we hope we can say the same about Alexander Guerrero next year and Julio Urias at some point after that. It makes all the sense in the world, really. With teams locking up young players to extensions more than ever and the new CBA tightening restrictions on how much teams can spend on imports like Puig (even though he barely beat the deadline for the new rules), rich teams have to find new ways to identify talent and spend money.

Which brings us to Masahiro Tanaka, the 24-year-old Japanese righty who will follow Ryu from last year and Yu Darvish from the previous winter as the Asian pitching import of choice. The Dodgers will have at least one opening in the rotation (we’ll cover that tomorrow) if not two, and had been connected to Tanaka back in September before Ned Colletti admitted that they’d scouted him again just last weekend, so it’s time to get to know him.

The 6’2″ Tanaka went 24-0 (!) with a 1.24 ERA for the Rakuten Eagles, and the fact that I’m even bothering to quote a win-loss record should tell you just how hilarious 24-0 is. He hasn’t lost since August… of 2012. In seven seasons, starting when he was 18, he has a 8.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9, allowing just ten homers over the last two seasons with what appears to be an excellent splitter and a fastball that touches 95.

The scouting reports here have been pretty good, as you’d expect. Ben Badler thinks he’s better than Jose Abreu, who just signed for $68m with the White Sox (without the requirement of a posting fee, of course), and at least one scout compares him favorably to Darvish, though most seem to see him as a step below:

“He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower,’’ the scout said. “Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.’’

Another praised his arsenal, while a Japanese GM concurred:

“He has good velocity, command and a great demeanor,” said a major league scout whose team has been one of several watching Tanaka closely. “He has a great splitter, which would make a difference in the majors.”

The scout says Tanaka’s determination is what resonates with many.

“He can strike out batters when he needs to,” he stated. “He really knows how to bear down. His slider is his secondary pitcher. We project him as a No. 2 starter for most MLB clubs.”

The NPB team GM agrees that Tanaka’s split-finger pitch is what makes him special: “He can throw five pitches — splitter, fastball, slider, changeup, curve — with good command. But the splitter just disappears. That’s why batters can’t hit it.”

Here’s a highlight reel video, for your pleasure:

As you’d also expect, a ton of teams are interested aside from the Dodgers, including the Mets, Blue Jays, Rangers, Angels, Twins, Yankees, Red Sox, and certainly more, and so the cost here is anyone’s guess. Darvish’s posting fee was $51.7m, but with the game flush in cash and fewer avenues to spend it, it’s not difficult to see this pushing $60m even if he’s not as good. (It’s important to note as well that the posting fee does not count towards luxury cap penalties, which encourages teams to spend freely.) Ryu got $25.7m, and Tanaka is surely seen as being better than him.

Also important to remember, the posting system may be in the midst of a change, reports Badler

According to sources, one of the changes could include a system in which the posting fee would be capped, which in theory would give more money to the player rather than the Japanese team and allow MLB to count more money against the luxury tax. In turn, multiple teams could then be allowed to win the posting rights and compete for the player, but that system could also drive up costs for owners. Nobody seems certain what the future of the system will bring.

“We’re just operating under the idea that everything’s going to be the same way it was last year,” said one international director. “That’s the same as everyone else I talked to.”

Which makes it even more difficult to project a cost, because we’re not even sure what the system will be. My best guess is that the total outlay, between posting fee and contract, either comes close to or caps $100m, and that means only a few teams can really be involved. I imagine the Yankees will be in on Tanaka hard, simply because they have zero pitching right now — their 2014 rotation at the moment is CC Sabathia & Ivan Nova — and because the fact that the posting fee won’t hit their cap is huge to them, as they attempt to stay under $189m.

I’m sure the Dodgers will be on this too, as well they should. Imagine a rotation with Tanaka as the third starter, behind Clayton Kershaw & Zack Greinke and ahead of Ryu? It’s almost unfair, though obviously locking up Kershaw takes priority this winter, and it should be remembered that Tanaka could easily be more Kei Igawa than Ryu or Darvish. It remains to be seen if other teams have more interest, but because Tanaka is expected to be both good and pricy, you can bet they’ll be involved.