Predicting where Masahiro Tanaka will sign

Koji Watanabe

I'm guessing either the Yankees or Dodgers, possibly both, came into the offseason with this plan:

  • Submit an absurd posting fee for Masahiro Tanaka
  • Exploit his lack of leverage to sign him to an expensive-not-crazy deal
  • Pay less luxury-tax monies
  • Skip hand-and-hand with their new ace down the beach

It was a beautiful plan. Somewhere along the way, it done got fouled up, though. There are changes afoot to the posting system for Japanese players. Teams used to submit sealed bids, and the top bid got the negotiating rights. That led to big paydays for Japanese teams, but smaller paydays for the players on the not-so-open market. Since neither the MLBPA or MLB give a good doggone about the ledgers of NPB teams, things are changing.

For a second, the word on the tweet was that there was a maximum bid of $20 million now -- by way of comparison, the posting fee for Yu Darvish topped $50 million -- and the tie would be broken by lowest winning percentage. Which meant that Tanaka was going to be a Houston Astro, and they were going to bookend the below-market Tanaka with two first-overall picks. Being awful is great if your timing is right.

Alas, that wasn't the new format. According to Jeff Passan, the word now is that any team that reaches the max bid can negotiate with the posted player. Which means a …

I made that just for the occasion.

Except this wasn't going to be the same kind of bidding war teams were expecting. Now the extra monies were going to hit teams right in the luxury tax. The reason the Yankees were goofy for Tanaka was that he wasn't going to hurt their efforts to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Considering what they just paid for Jacoby Ellsbury, and what they still might pay for Robinson Cano and/or Hiroki Kuroda, it's hard to imagine them outbidding anyone for Tanaka now.

The proposed system turns a minority of teams into favorites for Tanaka, then. Those teams:

  1. Dodgers
  2. Dodgers
  3. Dodgers

Don't count out the Dodgers. They could be a real sleeper in this whole thing.

That is, if you're looking at a bidding war -- a raw, most-money-takes-it bidding war -- the Dodgers win. They haven't been outbid yet. They wanted Zack Greinke, they got him. They wanted Yasiel Puig, they got him. They wanted Alex Guerrero, Brandon League, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and they got them all. You haven't read a "Dodgers come up short in bidding war" article recently because those articles don't exist. If the Dodgers want Tanaka, under the new system they have him. They have the biggest stack of chips at the table, and the rest of the teams have piles of Eric Anthony rookie cards. Even the Yankees would bow out quickly.

There's a wrinkle, though. From the master:

Think about it. It makes sense. NPB teams used to post their best players because of the windfall. The Nippon Ham Fighters scored more than $50 million for posting Darvish. If they were guaranteed less than half that, would they have posted him? He was a star, Clayton Kershaw stapled to Mike Trout. If the money were capped, maybe it's not worth it.

Tanaka is close to that status. He's not the rock star Darvish was, but he's close. Even when you consider the average NPB salary is far lower than what we're used to, the Golden Eagles have to wonder what they're going to do with that $20 million that's so much better than having Tanaka pitch for them for the next two seasons. They were 82-59 and won the Japan Series last year. I'm not sure if $20 million is worth giving up their best player in the middle of a possible dynasty.

It's impossible to figure out where Tanaka is going until the posting-fee mess is sorted out, so this is a special edition of Free Agent Matchmaker. Connect the posting-fee system with the team:

If the worst winning percentage breaks the posting-fee tie:
Astros, six years, $76 million

If the max-bid teams all get to negotiate directly with Tanaka, and he's posted:
Dodgers, eight years, $150 million

As it stands now:
Rakuten Golden Eagles, two years, $18 million

The worst part is that we're talking about a dude's livelihood here. He isn't a Picasso painting or a '66 Cobra.. He's a person with a rare, in-demand talent, and his future earnings are wholly dependent on the wheeling-dealings of suited ghouls who don't really care what happens to him. You might not cry too hard, considering he'll be a multi-millionaire, regardless. It bugs me, though.

Not enough to stop secretly wishing the Giants could get him for the league minimum under some arcane loophole, but it bugs me a little. We'll see how the visible hand of the market rewards or punishes Tanaka. Right now, though, it looks like the real sleepers are his current team in Japan.

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