The starting pitcher free agent market has been at a standstill because Major League Baseball and the Japan league have been working out a new posting system for players. Teams have been waiting to see what happens with Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka before moving on other free agent starting pitchers. Tanaka would be the gem of the free agent marketplace, should teams have the opportunity to sign him. That could come soon.
The Japan Times (via MLB Trade Rumors) reports that a new deal has been reached between the two leagues to establish a process of posting players and make players such as Tanaka available to the highest bidder:
Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball have reached a basic agreement on a new posting system, sources said Thursday.
It is thought that an agreement has been reached after MLB requested a posting fee cap of $20 million. The move will be formalized once the two sides have ironed out the details.
“A draft is being prepared and hopefully both MLB and NPB can sign an official decision,” said NPB secretary general Atsushi Ihara.
The implementation of the new system would pave the way for Tohoku Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a major league team this winter.
Free agent starters such as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jiminez should see their market develop after Tanaka has signed with a Major League team.
The Phillies could be players for Tanaka. Last month 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.
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.