There’s a lot we don’t know about Masahiro Tanaka.
This much is apparent, however: the Japanese right-hander is 20-0 with a 1.24 ERA in Japan’s Pacific League, he may jump to MLB this winter, and the Toronto Blue Jays are among the big-league teams intrigued by his potential.
With the off-season approaching quickly, here’s a guide to Tanaka, his skills and his prospective suitors:
Age: 24 (25 in November)
Weight: 205 pounds
Team: Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League
2013 stats: 20-0, 1.24 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 in 181 innings
Career stats: 2.32 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 in seven seasons
Status: If the Eagles post Tanaka, he will be available to MLB teams through the same process that led to Yu Darvish’s contract with the Texas Rangers. However, the Eagles may decide not to post Tanaka.
Representation: As of late last month, MLB agencies were still vying to represent Tanaka should he transition to North America.
Tanaka relies on a fastball that sits in the low 90 m.p.h. range and can touch 96 m.p.h., according to Baseball America's Ben Badler. The right-hander also throws a splitter that’s well above-average, Badler reported. Some MLB scouts view him as a No. 2 starter who could help at the big-league level immediately.
This video offers a look at Tanaka in action:
Why he appeals to MLB teams:
Tanaka has dominated the opposition in Japan and, according to Badler, his stuff intrigues MLB teams. A 20-0 record and 1.24 ERA will generate some attention. As a 24-year-old, he’s younger than just about any MLB free agent, so it’s possible his best years are ahead of him.
The upcoming class of free agent starting pitchers appears relatively thin, so teams must consider alternatives such as trades and international players. MLB teams could add Tanaka without surrendering prospects or draft picks, which is a bonus for the many GMs reluctant to part with minor leaguers and future picks.
Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish and pro scout Dan Evans were in Japan scouting Tanaka last month, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun recently reported. While teams generally don’t waste their time and money on players they have zero interest in adding, there’s presumably an element of due diligence involved as well.
The Blue Jays are far from the only team intrigued:
- The New York Yankees have heavily scouted Tanaka, according to Mark Hale and George A. King III of the New York Post.
- The San Francisco Giants are interested, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com.
- Minnesota Twins executive Mike Radcliff is going on a scouting trip to Japan in the next few weeks, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN.
- The Boston Red Sox were watching Tanaka closely, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported in May.
- Cafardo also linked the Oakland Athletics to Tanaka.
- The Texas Rangers and Yankees have sent top evaluators to Japan to scout Tanaka, Badler reported.
While there’s no predicting precisely what kind of money Tanaka could obtain, some recent deals provide context for his earning potential.
The Los Angeles Dodgers spent $25.7 million for the rights to negotiate with Hyun-Jin Ryu last winter then signed him for an additional $36 million. Two off-seasons ago, the Rangers spent approximately $52 million for Darvish's rights and signed him to a $56 million contract.
Jonah Keri of Grantland recently suggested that winning the bidding for Tanaka and signing him could cost a team between $62-110 million total.
The Eagles must decide after the season whether to post Tanaka. If they post him, MLB teams will submit bids and his exclusive rights will go to the highest bidder. That team will then have the chance to negotiate a contract with the right-hander.