Some good news for Phillies fans came yesterday from the winter meetings. The good news is that the Phillies might go after Japanese pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka should he be available. The bad news is that he may not be available as Major League Baseball and the Japanese professional leagues work out a new posting system that would allow teams to sign Tanaka. They may not be able to.
First, Paul Hagen of MLB.com noted that Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. would be looking "all over the globe" for pitching. The obvious follow-up question to that would be whether he was referring to Masahiro Tanaka.
Asked whether he would be willing to make an exception to the informal club guideline against offering long-term contracts to pitchers, as he did for Cole Hamels, Amaro said, "We don't have hard-and-fast rules. The shorter [contract] the better, but that doesn't always work out. We're looking all over the globe."
Asked if that was a reference to Tanaka, he added, "We have to try to be as open-minded as we can. We can't really cut off any markets. I don't know how realistic some of the markets are, but we'll keep our eyes open."
The Phillies showed a willingness to spend big on international free agents this offseason when they agreed to a contract with Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Gonzalez originally reportedly agreed to a six-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies. That deal was put into limbo after what many assume was a failed physical. The team signed him for just $12 million eventually. So, the Phillies have some extra money they did not spend on Gonzalez.
When a player is "posted" by a Japanese team, his contractual negotiation rights are put up for sale by the team who controls his services. Major league teams in the United States would post anonymous bids and whoever bid the highest would win exlusive rights to negotiate with that player. If the player was signed, the contract with the player was a separate entity altogether. But, the agreement under which those deal happened is expired.
Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com writes that there is an open proposal that would allow Tanaka to be posted. Or, teams could wait until Japanese players are free agents and they can sign with whoever they want.
A new MLB proposal that would allow Tanaka and other players to be posted this offseason is awaiting the approval of Japanese baseball officials, according to the source, and the sentiment among a growing number of Major League owners is to end the posting system entirely and wait to sign Japanese players when they become full free agents after nine seasons, which is the rule in Japan.
The Japanese teams may prefer the influx of cash if they are going to lose a player. As Hagan noted, Disuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki cost teams big posting fees in the past, but other players such as Koji Uehara and Hideki Matsui simply waited until they were free agents and signed with Major League teams.
For a team like the Phillies, Tanaka would only cost the team money. Getting a prospect at an advanced status without giving up any talent is something the Phillies could really use to rebuild. That is why teams such as the Chicago Cubs will be in on Tanaka, too. Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said so yesterday. If the Phillies were to get Tanaka they would likely face competition from the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, too.
For what it's worth, Phillies new third base coach/former bench coach Pete Mackanan had the responsibility of scouting Tanaka in Japan last year with the New York Yankees. If he liked what he saw, he would be the first to let the Phillies know, I'm sure. Stay tuned.