Japanese star RHP Tanaka intrigues Jays, others

Masahiro Tanaka. (AP)

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:

Essential Facts:

Age: 24 (25 in November)

Throws: Right

Height: 6’2”

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.

Interested teams:

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:


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.

Next steps:

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.

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