MLB wary that Masahiro Tanaka might ‘repay’ Japanese team

Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka poses with an award he won during a Japanese professional sports award ceremony in Tokyo on Friday.
(Koji Sasahara / Associated Press)

As Masahiro Tanaka awaits a nine-figure contract with a major league club, the commissioner’s office is expected to review the winning bid to ensure his Japanese club does not get more than the $20 million promised under a new agreement between Major League Baseball and its Japanese counterpart.

The president of Tanaka’s Japanese club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, said at a news conference this week that Tanaka wishes to make donations to improve the Eagles’ stadium and its facilities for players and fans.

The agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball expressly prohibits a Japanese club from getting any value other than the so-called posting fee, directly or indirectly, including through the player, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said.

“We are intent on enforcing all the provisions of the agreement,” Courtney said.

The Dodgers, Angels, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are among the MLB clubs interested in Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average for Rakuten last season. The bidding opened Thursday and could extend through Jan. 24.


Tanaka is 25, relatively young for a free agent. The combination of his youth and the scarcity of high-quality free-agent pitching is expected to send his price tag over $100 million.

At the news conference announcing that Rakuten would post Tanaka – that is, make him available to MLB – Rakuten President Yozo Tachibana called the agreement between MLB and NPB “unfair.”

Under the old system, in which MLB teams bid to acquire exclusive negotiating rights from Japanese clubs, the Rangers paid $51.7 million to Yu Darvish’s Japanese club. Under the new system, approved last week by MLB and NPB, the posting fee paid to a Japanese club is capped at $20 million, and the player can negotiate with any and all MLB teams.

However, according to Japanese media reports, Tachibana said Tanaka told him that he wanted to “repay the team that developed me” and “cooperate and donate . . . starting with improving the environment for the players and to make sure it’s the kind of stadium that can be loved by [local] fans.” Sponichi, a Japanese newspaper, noted that Rakuten has spoken with local officials about the possibility of adding a dome to its stadium.

Tanaka did not attend the news conference at which Tachibana spoke. Casey Close, the agent for Tanaka, did not respond to a message asking whether Tanaka had agreed to make a donation to either the team or local government in the area where Rakuten plays and whether any such donation might violate the MLB-NPB agreement.


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