Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to move to the majors next season after his Japanese team Rakuten Eagles announced yesterday that they are prepared to let him leave, reversing their earlier rejection.
Rakuten Eagles president Yozo Tachibana told a news conference that the team decided to release him through the posting system, paving the way for his departure. Tachibana said Tanaka’s outstanding performance over the past seven years, including this season, meant he deserved to be allowed to move to the US.
Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-hander, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Eagles during the regular season and sought a move to the majors, but has two years remaining on his contract and Rakuten are under no obligation to release him.
“I’m grateful to the team for allowing me to try. Now I’ve made a first step,” he said.
The Yankees are considered the leading candidates to sign Tanaka, though the capping of the posting fee at US$20 million meant many other teams could also afford to make offers. The Eagles had rejected the new posting system, but it was passed by a vote of Japan’s professional teams. Following that decision, Rakuten had initially said they wanted to retain Tanaka, before yesterday’s change of heart.
Tachibana said the team took into consideration Tanaka’s “outstanding contribution to the team” since he joined the Eagles seven years ago. Tanaka’s perfect 24-0 record set a new mark in the history of Japanese professional baseball and brought a first league championship to the team based in Sendai, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
For 30 days from the time a player is posted, any MLB team can attempt to sign them. The club pay the posting fee only if they sign the player. Under the new rules, a Japanese club may make players available between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1. A player who is not signed may not be posted again until the following Nov. 1.
Tachibana said his team are happy to retain Tanaka if he does not reach an agreement with an MLB side.
The new posting system was negotiated after some MLB franchises objected that only the richest clubs could afford to bid for top Japanese players.
Under the previous agreement, which ran through last off-season, there was no cap on bidding and only the highest bidder could negotiate with the player.
Boston got pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions before the 2007 season for US$51.1 million and agreed to a US$52 million, six-year contract, while Texas got pitcher Yu Darvish from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before last season for US$51.7 million and gave him a US$56 million, six-year deal.