MLB asks Masahiro Tanaka’s club for promise of no side deals

Several Major League Baseball teams, including the Dodgers, are interested in possibly acquiring Japanese pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka.
(Kyodo News via Associated Press)

Major League Baseball is so concerned over possible circumvention of the new posting agreement that it has asked Masahiro Tanaka’s Japanese club to provide written assurances it has no side deal with the ace pitcher.

The letter, sent by MLB to the Rakuten Golden Eagles via the Nippon Professional Baseball office, follows a Los Angeles Times report Friday that MLB intended to ensure Rakuten got no more than the allowable $20 million for making Tanaka available to MLB clubs.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney confirmed Sunday that the league had sent the letter and requested those assurances. It was not immediately clear how Rakuten might respond.

Rakuten might have gotten three times more money from making Tanaka available under the old posting system, in which MLB teams bid to acquire exclusive negotiating rights from Japanese clubs. In 2011, the Texas Rangers paid $51.7 million for the rights to pitcher Yu Darvish.


Under the new system -- approved by NPB clubs over Rakuten’s objection -- the posting fee paid to a Japanese club is capped at $20 million, and the player can negotiate with any and all MLB teams.

At a news conference last week, Rakuten President Yozo Tachibana called the new system unfair but said Tanaka would be allowed to leave for MLB. Tachibana also said Tanaka wanted to donate to improve the Rakuten stadium, including its facilities for players and fans.

However, the new agreement between MLB and NPB expressly prohibits a Japanese club from getting any value other than the so-called posting fee, directly or indirectly, including through the player. MLB is concerned about the appearance of a link between the purported donation and Rakuten’s decision to let Tanaka go.

The Dodgers, Angels, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, 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, with Tanaka expected to sign for at least $100 million.

The existence of the letter was first reported by Sponichi, a Japanese newspaper.


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