Could Japanese Clubs Be Wising Up In Wake of Tanaka’s Posting?

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Welcome to season 2 of Prospects2Pros. Things are a little different from last year, for one, the blog now has it’s own twitter feed. Secondly, the blog will be monetizing, I apologize in advance, but it’s time to get some extra cash. Third, there will likely be more radio podcasts than there were last year, hopefully I will be getting into contact with some prospects and getting interviews lined up, if any of you readers know anyone who would be interested in going for 15 minutes for an interview, please, let me know.

And now we officially get down to business.

Masahiro Tanaka has been the biggest story this offseason. The Japanese ace for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who was noticed despite a poor 2013 World Baseball Classic, had a tremendous 2013 season, going undefeated with a 24-0 record and a  sub 1.00 ERA. Tanaka was rewarded with the Eiji Sawamura award, given to the top pitcher in Japan, as well as the Pacific League MVP, and the Japanese Sport Grand Prize. Tanaka had expressed interest in playing Major League baseball after the season.

What followed has been considered a major dragging of feet. For two and a half months, the Rakuten Eagles were debating whether or not to post Tanaka, while MLB officials were concerned about the posting system; for those who are unaware, the posting system allows international clubs to gain compensation for the loss of their star players, should they choose to leave their team legally. (In the case of Cuban baseball players like Jose Dariel Abreu, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes,) they are defectors, and clubs do not have to pay the players’ former club any money. This whole back-and-forth carried through the Winter Meetings in Orlando, when the president of the Eagles visited in order to gauge interest in Tanaka, as well as work on posting system negotiations. Eventually, it was agreed that the maximum posting fee would be $20 million, a great decrease from the amount of money that the Texas Rangers paid in order to be allowed to negotiate with Yu Darvish, Obviously the Eagles president was not happy, and even threatened not to post Tanaka, going so far as to offer him a record extension. however, this was averted when the Eagles relented and posted the ace on Christmas Day.

Tanaka may be available now, but it appears that there are other roadblocks preventing the ace from signing. One of the big ones involved the Eagles coercing Tanaka to donate some of his contract to the team in order to finance stadium improvements, (The Eagles Stadium was heavily damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.) which included the construction of a dome. MLB has put the kibosh on that, but needs to make the agreement with the Eagles in writing in order to make sure that they do not get anything else but the posting money. Since then, Tanaka has been without a club, and while there are rumors that teams are “interested”, no formal bids have come out.

Given what has happened since the new posting system came about, I wouldn’t be surprised if teams are now going to be more hesitant to offer up their star pitchers. When Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish were posted, it was the highest bidder, in the case, the Red Sox ($51 Million), and the Rangers, ($52 Million) who bought their players and doubled, or even tripled their team’s payroll. Given the season that Tanaka had just come off of, I’m not surprised that the Eagles would be hesitant to just let him go for $20 million. That’s like paying for an expensive imported car through a penny auction site. Clearly the Eagles feel that their ace pitcher was worth a lot more. And when they lost that leverage with the agreed fee, they were faced with a lose-lose situation. Even if they paid Tanaka the record deal, they risked making him unhappy, and if the posted him, they knew that they were getting less than they thought he was worth. Even when they tried the loophole, you knew they were desperate. The Eagles, while a relatively new team, are one of the weaker teams in the Pacific league, and having to face the Seibu Lions without their star player and without the money they feel they need for his services is going to hurt them for a while.

This leads me to the focal point of this piece: Could this lead to the end of teams posting their stars? Could we lose out on players like Shohei Otani, Yosuke Nomura, Yasuhiro Ogawa, Naoya Masuda, and Takahiro Norimoto, all because clubs feel like their being cheated by our system?

While we can’t be sure, since we don’t know which Japanese star will be making the jump across the pond next, it will be interesting to see how this saga plays out. First of all, in order to get a general idea of what may or may not happen, Tanaka has to sign. We know that the interested teams are certainly willing to pay big money for a guy who won 24 games and had a sub 1.00 ERA, it’s just the matter of who wants him badly enough so that they have to pay him the money he wants. You also have to factor in the success of Tanaka in the States. We have seen Japanese players succeed in the US (Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, Ichiro, Hiroki Kuroda) and fail (Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa, Tsuyoshi Shinjo) I think that Tanaka’s career trajectory will define the future for Japanese-American baseball relations. If Tanaka succeeds, we could see Otani and other young Japanese phenoms play for our teams, but if he fails, it could be us who send our AAAA players and over-the-hill guys over to Japan where they benefit from the decrease in competition (Wlademir Blalentin anyone?)

So keep an eye on the Tanaka situation, and hope that he succeeds in the States. This could be crucial for Japanese and American baseball alike.

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