Masahiro Tanaka is one step closer to pitching in Major League Baseball next season.
Tanaka's Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, plan to make him available through the posting system, according to an announcement today from team president Yozo Tachibana. Several Japanese media outlets, including Nikkan Sports, reported the news earlier today.
The decision to post Tanaka, who becomes the best pitcher available on the market, should also push along the top of the free agent market for starting pitchers, as well as the trade market for Rays lefthander David Price. Several teams see Tanaka, 25, as a pitcher who can immediately step in as a frontline starter, with a fastball up to 96 mph, a devastating splitter and a slider that was inconsistent this season but flashed above-average at times.
In leading Rakuten to a Nippon Professional Baseball championship this past season, Tanaka posted a 1.27 ERA with 183 strikeouts and 32 walks in 212 innings. He was named the MVP of the Pacific League and won his second Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young. He also ranked as the No. 1 prospect at the World Baseball Classic, ahead of Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox in October.
The Eagles will set a "release fee" on Tanaka that will undoubtedly be for the maximum $20 million. Once the MLB commissioner's office posts Tanaka, every MLB team will be free to negotiate with him, and the team that signs him will pay the release fee to Rakuten in installments. Once Tanaka is posted, he will have 30 days to reach an agreement with an MLB team or return to the Eagles.