• The Tanaka Factor

    I'll say this much for Masahiro Tanaka: his timing is good. The Japenese star just put together the best statistical season for a pitcher in NPB history, and will be coming to the States just as Major League Baseball is receiving a massive influx of revenue from new media deals.

    Tanaka has been on an incredible run. After starring for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in the spring, he went 22-0 with a 1.23 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. At season's end, he came on as closer to protect a one-run lead in his team's pennant-clinching victory.

    He's a star on the level of Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo. He's only 24 years old. He has filed for international free agency. And there are plenty of major-league teams ready to spend big on pitching.

    The Twins are one of them.

    There are several reasons to believe the Twins will be active players for Tanaka this winter. Jim Pohlad has repeatedly insisted that he is more than open to aggressive financial measures in order to improve the club, while Terry Ryan has been typically wary of the free agent route.

    Ryan's main concern -- one that has been echoed by Pohlad -- is that there's great peril in handing high-dollar multi-year contracts to aging pitchers, who are notoriously susceptible to injury and decline.

    But of course, Tanaka is just entering his physical prime. He is only 15 months older than Alex Meyer, the organization's top pitching prospect. And his success in the Nippon Pro Baseball league has been otherworldly. In seven seasons, he is 95-35 with a 2.32 ERA, 52 complete games and 18 shutouts. He is renowned for his outstanding command, and his featured split-finger fastball is considered by scouts to be a plus major-league pitch.

    Of course, dominant numbers in Japan don't always portend effectiveness in the majors. The Twins have seen that on some level with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but the more relevant cases would be players like Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. There's plenty of risk involved, especially when you consider that Tanaka could well command an investment that rivals (or even exceeds) the $112 million shelled out by Texas for Darvish two years ago.

    The Rangers' contract with Darvish is for six years and $60 million -- hardly outrageous by MLB standards -- but Texas also needed to win bidding rights with a $52 million posting fee for the hurler's Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.

    Undoubtedly, the Golden Eagles are licking their chops anticipating the bids that might come in for Tanaka given his age and status. Several large-market major-league teams appear poised to spend heavily on starting pitching this offseason, most notably the New York Yankees.

    As the posting system for Japanese players involves blind bids, Ryan and the Twins would need to send out a very, very significant offer in order to have a legitimate chance of landing the pinnacle of the international market.

    Could they be gun-shy about playing this game? That would be understandable, since they were burned on the Nishioka deal. Then again, they must feel some sense of remorse for missing out on Hisashi Iwakuma, for whom they finished runner up in the post bidding back in 2010. The Twins clearly had interest in Iwakuma but didn't do what it took to bring him in, and they've since watched him go 23-11 with a 2.84 ERA in two seasons with Seattle.

    The cost to claim Tanaka will be in another realm entirely from Nishioka (winning bid: $5 million) or Iwakuma ($19 million). I suspect he may break the current record held by Darvish at $51.7 million. That's an awful lot of money to pay simply to negotiate with a player, at which point the Twins would have to make another massive financial commitment.

    Perhaps too spicy a pepper to swallow. There's not much in the history of the franchise or the commanding GM to suggest that such a splashy play would be on the table. But with the Twins admitting they have surplus money to spend, and with Tanaka fitting so well into their emerging timeline, I wouldn't be surprised if the club made a bid they feel is quite aggressive in order to take a shot at the intriguing righty.

    Whether or not that's aggressive enough isn't in their hands. It could very well turn out that the Twins' ability to gamble on Tanaka is dictated more by the level of interest from other (far richer) teams than their own.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Tanaka Factor started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 138 Comments
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      From Keith Law's chat today:

      Can you opine on Tanaka and if can potentially be as good as Darvish? Or do you not know enough about him to comment?
      Klaw (1:17 PM)




      He's not close to Darvish. No one from NPB is. The entire comparison is based on ethnicity/former league. Tanaka is more comparable to Kuroda.
      Klaw (1:17 PM)




      ...but no one wants to say that because it's not as exciting. Tanaka is more like a mid-rotation guy here, but he'll be paid like he's much better than that.

      Just wondering if that sort of evaluation makes anyone who has been suggesting the Twins be aggressive in the bidding process have second thoughts.
      I guess it probably depends on what is agressive. Teams would pay a lot of money to have Kuroda on their team. In fact, I'd guess if Kuroda was Tanaka's age and on the market now, he likely would have gotten the same or larger contract than Darvish did. $10-12 million per seems like it would be a bargain for a 24-year-old Kuroda.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I guess it probably depends on what is agressive. Teams would pay a lot of money to have Kuroda on their team. In fact, I'd guess if Kuroda was Tanaka's age and on the market now, he likely would have gotten the same or larger contract than Darvish did. $10-12 million per seems like it would be a bargain for a 24-year-old Kuroda.
      Fair enough. I guess by "aggressive," I would say simply bidding enough to give you a high probability of winning the bid.

      If most organizations see Tanaka as Law does, as a middle of the rotation guy, maybe that means the Twins' chances go up. I'm not sure how many teams would be willing to incur a huge up-front cost for the privilege of negotiating a deal for what would be, for them, a #3 starter.

      If he would, indeed, immediately pencil in as the Twins' top starter, he might be worth more to the Twins than he would to other organizations.

      I just don't think a posting bid comparable to what Darvish's rights went for makes much sense for any team if they're not getting a bona fide top of the rotation arm.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      Fair enough. I guess by "aggressive," I would say simply bidding enough to give you a high probability of winning the bid.

      If most organizations see Tanaka as Law does, as a middle of the rotation guy, maybe that means the Twins' chances go up. I'm not sure how many teams would be willing to incur a huge up-front cost for the privilege of negotiating a deal for what would be, for them, a #3 starter.

      If he would, indeed, immediately pencil in as the Twins' top starter, he might be worth more to the Twins than he would to other organizations.

      I just don't think a posting bid comparable to what Darvish's rights went for makes much sense for any team if they're not getting a bona fide top of the rotation arm.
      If the new posting system gets put into place it could work to our favor too. We would only have to finish in the top 3 bids to have a chance to negotiate with Tanaka. This is a double edged sword though. This should decrease the size of the posting fees but increase the cost of contracts handed out because multiple teams will be able to negotiate with the player.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The Yankees are not going to care about the posting bid. So they will win by posting $50 or whatever million. They do care about salary and he is fairly cheap if in the 5-6 years and $55-66 million range.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I think that new posting system is a pipedream. Why would Japan agree to it since it could result in substantially lower winning bids?
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      I think that new posting system is a pipedream. Why would Japan agree to it since it could result in substantially lower winning bids?
      Well, I'm no expert on international law (or much of any kind of law, for that matter), but my understanding has always been that MLB agreed to the current system in order to preclude having teams essentially treat the Japanese leagues as just another independent minor league and raid them for talent without any compensation at all.

      I don't think anyone envisioned Japanese teams getting $50 million in a single posting fee and while the proposed new system may mean a bit less money going overseas as compensation, they won't see that money dry up completely. That's better than the alternative of having Japanese players simply able to negotiate with any/all 30 MLB teams with no compensation going to their former team at all.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      I think that new posting system is a pipedream. Why would Japan agree to it since it could result in substantially lower winning bids?
      Because Japan fears that if they don't change it, the high profile teenagers are going to go straight to the MLB instead of sticking around Japan for a few years to develop.

      A secondary concern is that MLB teams have the ability to screw everyone over by posting a large bid only to not make a good faith effort to reach an agreement with the player. The A's were accused of doing this with Iwakuma simply to keep rivals from signing him.

      I think the bigger question is why would mid-market Midweast MLB teams agree to this. What high-profile Asian free agent is going to choose Minnesota or Kansas City?
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Twins still should take a chance here. Young controllable pitcher at a reasonable yearly cost. Hope the upfront fee does not stop them. Would bid up to a little over $50 million for his rights.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I think the bigger question is why would mid-market Midweast MLB teams agree to this. What high-profile Asian free agent is going to choose Minnesota or Kansas City?
      Which leads to the question, "what makes you think Bud Selig or the major market teams that run MLB give a damn what the mid-market Midweast MLB teams will or won't agree to?"

      The new proposal absolutely favors the big market teams. As virtually all decisions made by MLB do.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Because Japan fears that if they don't change it, the high profile teenagers are going to go straight to the MLB instead of sticking around Japan for a few years to develop.
      Possibly but that high profile teenager is subject to the int'l signing rules and would get <5M guaranteed and then have to wait several years in the minors before making the MiLB min for 3 more years before hitting arb. Not exactly a quicker path to the big money.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I worry that even if the Twins are the high bidder on Tanaka, the Twins do not have other factors in place to maximize his success.

      Looking back, when Kuroda went to the Dodgers, he was 33 years old, the Dodgers closer was Takashi Saito and Kuroda was not expected to anchor the rotation. The Dodgers also had Lowe & Billingsley and 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw as well as Brad Penny.

      When Darvish went to the Rangers, they not only had the guru in charge (Nolan Ryan), they also had Matt Harrison and Derek Holland (plus Scott Feldman, Colby Lewis & Ryan Dempster). They also had Yoshinori Tateyama already in their system (and having made his major league debut).

      Tanaka would pretty much be expected to anchor the Twins rotation plus would be the only Japanese player on the team at this point. Would that really maximize his possibility of success? Is he the right fit for the Twins? Are the Twins the right fit for him?
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Question, has Terry Ryan ever shown that he will (by actually doing it) spend a large amount of money on an International Free agent, Cuban or Asian player?
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      Possibly but that high profile teenager is subject to the int'l signing rules and would get <5M guaranteed and then have to wait several years in the minors before making the MiLB min for 3 more years before hitting arb. Not exactly a quicker path to the big money.
      But perhaps the only path to the really big money. Ryu and Darvish are making good money but not great until their contract expires. They won't be FA's until they are 32 and 31 years old respectively. It seems unlikely they will be signed to one of the 7 to 8 year mega contracts that are currently the rage at that stage of their careers.

      If a pitcher, like Darvish let's say, feels like he is going to be an absolute stud then financially it might make sense to come over early, work your way up through the minors and make it to arbitration. Certainly that is considerably more risky but the potential reward is also much greater.

      Another factor in the decision making process, and one I don't know the answer to, is how much these guys are making in Japan/Korea. Does anybody know?
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I worry that even if the Twins are the high bidder on Tanaka, the Twins do not have other factors in place to maximize his success.

      Looking back, when Kuroda went to the Dodgers, he was 33 years old, the Dodgers closer was Takashi Saito and Kuroda was not expected to anchor the rotation. The Dodgers also had Lowe & Billingsley and 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw as well as Brad Penny.

      When Darvish went to the Rangers, they not only had the guru in charge (Nolan Ryan), they also had Matt Harrison and Derek Holland (plus Scott Feldman, Colby Lewis & Ryan Dempster). They also had Yoshinori Tateyama already in their system (and having made his major league debut).

      Tanaka would pretty much be expected to anchor the Twins rotation plus would be the only Japanese player on the team at this point. Would that really maximize his possibility of success? Is he the right fit for the Twins? Are the Twins the right fit for him?
      I don't know the answer to any of your questions, I'm not sure anybody does, but they are great questions.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Wasn't sure if this really warranted a new topic, so I'll tack it on here as the discussion of Tanaka involves posting fees.

      Just wondering if you could abuse the system to "block" a player if you were worried about him signing with a rival. Make a huge bid guaranteed to win, but then offer a terrible contract the player won't sign, thus preventing him from coming over here. Just wondering if there's anything that would prevent that, like the Japanese team keeping XX% of the posting fee regardless.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Oakland did that. It was not smiled on.....

      Value is a funny thing. If you aren't going to spend that money elsewhere, and your best pitcher is a number 4 or 5 quality pitcher, I'd think Tananka holds more value to you than to a team that already has 3 or more good pitchers. Also, if you have a budget of between 90 and 120MM, and you are only spending 60-70MM, he should be more affordable to you (regardless of value).
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      I wasn't suggesting the Twins do that, just had the thought cross my mind wondering if it could even be done. Not they have reason to worry per se, but if the Red Sox were certain the Yankees were most likely to get him, could they pull that off to prevent it?
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      I wasn't suggesting the Twins do that, just had the thought cross my mind wondering if it could even be done. Not they have reason to worry per se, but if the Red Sox were certain the Yankees were most likely to get him, could they pull that off to prevent it?
      Yeah, Oakland did it, and it's likely one of the reasons the Japanese Leagues are considering changing the posting system so that multiple teams are allowed to negotiate with the player.
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