ORLANDO, Fla. — When the general managers' meetings started Monday, the Dodgers and Angels still didn't know if or when one of their primary targets, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, would be available this off-season.
Some clarity on the issue is expected in the coming days. Japanese baseball officials are reportedly close to agreeing on a new set of rules governing the transfer of players from their professional league to the majors.
The later the new rules are implemented, the later Tanaka will be auctioned, and teams such as the Dodgers and Angels could be forced to decide whether to delay their pursuit of other rotation candidates while waiting for him to become available.
By waiting, the Dodgers and Angels face the danger of Tanaka not being available at all if Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball fail to agree on a revised posting system. Or, even if he is made available, they could lose in the auction for him.
Tanaka, 25, is widely considered to be superior to any pitcher available on the free-agent market. He had a record of 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and is described by some evaluators as a harder-throwing version of former Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda. Whatever team acquires him could pay more than the $111.7 million the Texas Rangers paid to land Yu Darvish before the 2012 season.
Asked how Tanaka's predicament affected the Dodgers' off-season plans, General Manager Ned Colletti was vague.
"We always work on the information we have at the time," he said. "If something's going to change in the near term, we'll adjust."
Under the old posting system, a team bid for the right to negotiate with a player. The winning team would pay a posting fee to the player's Japanese team, which would be refunded if the player couldn't be signed to a contract.
The revisions to the rules were requested by major league team owners, who wanted to control the escalating costs of acquiring Japanese players. The Rangers paid a posting fee of $51.7 million for Darvish, then signed him to a six-year, $60-million contract.
MLB and NPB have agreed that the posting fee will now be the average of the two highest bids, according to a person familiar with the situation. Still, only the team with the top bid will have exclusive negotiating rights with the player.
The Japanese players union has objected to the new system because it wants players to be able to negotiate with multiple teams. The union appeared to soften its stance after a meeting with NPB officials Monday. According to reports out of Japan, the union plans to reach out to the player representatives of all 12 NPB teams, after which they are expected to approve the new system.
One possible factor in the shift in the union's stance: The chairman is Motohiro Shima, Tanaka's catcher.
Tim Wallach will be Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly's bench coach. The Dodgers' third base coach for the last three seasons, Wallach interviewed with the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners for their managerial positions this off-season. Lorenzo Bundy, the Dodgers' triple-A manager for the last three seasons, will replace Wallach as third base coach. … The Angels signed left-hander Wade LeBlanc to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to major league spring-training camp.
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