Masahiro Tanaka Not Likely Coming to MLB Any Time Soon
The Rakuten Golden Eagles just re-signed their ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a three-year 1.2 billion yen deal (approximately $14.3 million). For those of you who aren’t regular readers of this blog, Tanaka is the most promising Japanese starter in terms of a future MLB career.
Tanaka becomes only the third NPB player, after Yu Darvish in 2011 (500 million yen) and Ichiro Suzuki in 1998 (430 million yen), to sign a 400 million yen or more per season contract before reaching age 25. That pretty much tells you how well Tanaka has pitched in Japan — Japanese teams rarely dish out contracts of this size to anyone who hasn’t played in NPB for at least nine or ten seasons.
In my mind, at least, the three-year deal means that it is highly unlikely that the Golden Eagles will post Tanaka until after the 2015 season. He’ll be a nine year veteran at that point, and the Golden Eagles, as a small revenue NPB team, would likely lose him free agency after the 2016 season if they don’t post him the previous off-season.
Tanaka has said that he wants to play in the major leagues “at some point in the future.” Further, the Golden Eagles have agreed to “discuss” with Tanaka the possibility of posting him after each season of the new three-year deal.
However, Golden Eagles’ management was quoted the last two days as saying, “Without [Tanaka] we cannot win a championship. He is a player we absolutely need.” That doesn’t sound like a team that has any desire to get rid of Tanaka (unless he gets hurt) until the economic realities force them to do so.
Further, the fact that Tanaka agreed to a three-year deal by his own words “without any hesitation” because “it showed how much [the Golden Eagles] value me,” suggests that unless the Golden Eagles win a Japan Series and Tanaka completely dominates the Pacific League in the first two years of the contract, he’ll likely be willing to remain in Japan until the three-year deal expires.
MLB fans have to hope that Tanaka stays healthy the next three seasons so that we get a chance to see him play in the U.S. against the best. You never know with pitchers, and Tanaka did miss approximately five starts in each of 2010 and 2012 to injuries.