Masahiro Tanaka rumors: Japanese ace wants $17 million annually

Adam Pretty

Japan's latest export is looking for what might be the winter's largest pitcher contract.

Major League Baseball received one Christmas present early, when it was learned that NPB's Masahiro Tanaka would indeed be posted by his club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Thanks to the changes to the posting system, Tanaka is much more like a regular free agent than, say, Yu Darvish was, and because of this, he's in a position to demand more money. According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, Tanaka is looking for at least $17 million per season.

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In the past, one MLB team would win the bidding for a posted player, earning them exclusive negotiating rights. Now, though, a "release fee" is set by the player's team, and it cannot be more than $20 million, and also cannot be changed once it has been set. In Tanaka's case, the fee is $20 million, so any team willing to pay that amount to Rakuten upon agreeing to a contract is eligible to sign him. This does away with formal bidding, and opens up both the destination possibilities and the negotiating power of the posted player in question: that's how Tanaka, who has never thrown a pitch in MLB before, can ask for $17 million annually at minimum. Someone might very well give it to him over six years, pushing Tanaka's deal over $100 million. We're talking nearly twice what Yu Darvish received from the Rangers, but then again, whoever signs Tanaka won't be putting up over $50 million in posting fees in addition to the player cost.

It also helps that he posted a 1.27 ERA for Rakuten last year, and that his loftiest ERA since turning 20 is 2.50. While ERA isn't everything, and NPB's talent level is different than MLB's, there is no question he has thoroughly dominated the competition for years now, and should be successful when he transitions stateside.

The right-hander will be 25 years old in 2014, and it's clear that MLB thinks highly of him, considering they've stalled the entire free agent pitching market for weeks waiting to see if he would post or not: no one is happier to see Tanaka coming over than free agent starters Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. Tanaka doesn't have to sign for quite some time, though, as teams have until 5 pm on January 24th to make a deal with him: that means the aforementioned trio of starters might have to wait until almost spring training to sign, unless teams (or their agents) get fidgety before then.

It's unknown who will land Tanaka, but the teams who come up repeatedly are the Yankees, Mariners, and Cubs. The Mariners would like a splash on the pitching side to go along with their impact signing of Robinson Cano, and a rotation fronted by Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Tanaka, and then prospects like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton could go a long way towards their efforts to contend, especially since, unlike a David Price trade, all Tanaka will cost is cash. The Yankees need help on the pitching side after filling some lineup holes: Hiroki Kuroda is still going strong, but he's also 39, CC Sabathia struggled in 2013, and Ivan Nova is being relied upon heavily given the questions at the back-end of the rotation. As for the Cubs, they could use Tanaka to secure the frontline starter they have been unable to develop, sign, or trade for during their rebuilding efforts. While a rebuilding Cubs club is maybe not the most ideal destination, they have the resources to make it worth Tanaka's time should they choose.

More from SB Nation MLB:

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Jeb Lund: Job hunters of the MLB Winter Meetings

2013-14 MLB free agent tracker | Yankees eye Grant Balfour

The best free agents remaining by position

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