Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is one step closer to pitching in the major leagues.
Major League Baseball officially adopted rules under which teams can acquire non-free-agent Japanese players over the next three years, but there remains an obstacle that could prevent Tanaka from fulfilling his American dream: his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The Golden Eagles are under no obligation to make Tanaka available to major league teams and could retain him for another year or two. Tanaka, 25, is expected to learn his fate Tuesday, when he is scheduled to meet with Golden Eagles officials.
Sankei Sports, a Japanese sports newspaper, reported that Golden Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani has decided to let Tanaka go to the major leagues. However, the report didn't contain direct quotes from Mikitani or any other high-ranking Golden Eagles executive.
The reason Tanaka's status remains in question is because of the new regulations, which prevent the Golden Eagles from receiving more than $20 million in exchange for Tanaka. The Nippon Ham Fighters were paid $51.7 million by the Texas Rangers for the rights to Yu Darvish two years ago, and Golden Eagles officials have said in recent weeks that their prized pitcher is worth more than $20 million.
Without his team releasing him, Tanaka would be required to pitch in Japan for two more seasons before coming to the United States as an unrestricted free agent.
If the Golden Eagles agree to make Tanaka available, he could negotiate with all 30 teams for 30 days after he is posted, making him a de facto free agent. The team that agrees to contractual terms with him would have to pay the Golden Eagles a release fee, which would be determined by the Golden Eagles but must be $20 million or less. The release fee would be paid in installments, depending on the amount.
If Tanaka doesn't reach a deal with any team, he would return to the Golden Eagles.
The Dodgers and Angels have expressed interest in Tanaka, who had a record of 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average last season in the Japan Pacific League. In 212 innings, he gave up only 168 hits and 32 walks, and struck out 183.
Under the previous posting system, Japanese players were auctioned and could negotiate with only the team that submitted the highest bid.