The bidding for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka ends on Jan. 24.
The Orioles won't be in on it.
Tanaka, who is 25 and was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League last season, is probably in line for a seven-year contract that will push well above $100 million.
Considering the Orioles have never gone beyond three years for a MLB free-agent pitcher, Tanaka is well out of their comfort zone. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said that – point blank – earlier this month.
So the Orioles won’t register the $20 million posting fee to negotiate with Tanaka. Technically, then, this year’s change in the Japanese posting system doesn’t affect the Orioles.
But the rule changes were greeted as good news by Duquette, who is a big believer in the international market as a viable tool to build a major league team.
“I think the new posting system allows access to the market to more teams and there are more economic safeguards that allow for teams to take part in that market, other than just major market clubs,” Duquette said recently. “I think it is a progressive step in the right direction by Major League Baseball so more clubs have access to the talent available in the posting system.”
In the recent past, Japanese teams could post a player internationally who – according to Nippon Professional Baseball’s rules -- was not yet eligible for free agency. The highest bidder on the post then had exclusive negotiating rights with the player for a specific period. Basically, Major League Baseball teams were bidding twice: Once for the right to negotiate (with that money going to the team) and then the actual negotiation with the player.
Starting this year, any player that is posted can talk with any team that is willing to pay the $20 million posting fee (which is surrendered only if the posted player agrees to a contract with a Major League Baseball team).
Ultimately, the highest bidder likely will still win. But the player now can pick his team instead of choosing between one MLB club or staying in Japan.
So how does that help the Orioles?
Well, for some Japanese players, the Orioles are still more desirable than some other MLB teams, especially because they play in the highly competitive American League East -- a major point in their favor in Japan. If you are not going to play for the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, the next best thing is playing against those teams -- and on TV a lot.
Plus, the Orioles have a pretty good reputation with Japanese players. Current Red Sox closer Koji Uehara got his big league start in Baltimore and had a tremendous relationship with the club and city.
When Tsuyoshi Wada signed with the Orioles – a two-year, $8.15 million contract that, because of injury, didn’t yield one pitch in the majors – he contacted Uehara to get a scouting report on Baltimore.
Taiwan native Wei-Yin Chen, who played in Japan for several years, is currently with the Orioles and has had success making the transition, both on and off the field.
So, under the new posting system, it’s possible that the Orioles could be a desirable landing spot for a Japanese free agent and win a tie breaker if money is about equal. There’s a comfort factor knowing they have done it before and it yielded a good experience for the player involved.
Ultimately, though, money is usually the leading factor – in any system. And, frankly, other teams have shown much more willingness to spend on free agents than the Orioles. That doesn’t change, no matter the continent.
“The previous posting system made it difficult for teams in small and mid-markets to participate,” Duquette said. “In this new system, it at least gives you access to the market. However, the clubs in the major markets still have the advantage over other clubs.”
The Orioles have never really been in the discussion for any of the highest profile Japanese free agents, whether it was Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or posted players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka or Yu Darvish. And they probably won’t be under this new system.
Uehara, Wada and Chen did not have to be posted. Those are likely the types of international free agents the Orioles will go after aggressively in the future.
“We are always active in the international markets,” Duquette said. “This addresses the posting system with the Japanese professional players still under team control, but players can still become free agents after a period of time in Japan. That’s how we got Chen.”