All 30 teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the right-hander began at 7 a.m. CST Thursday. Teams have until 4 p.m. on Jan. 24 to attempt to reach an agreement with the 25-year-old pitcher.
If Tanaka and a major league team agree on terms, that franchise is required to pay his Japanese team, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee of $20 million.
Rest assured, someone will pay that $20 million, plus probably another $20 million per year over the next six or seven years to sign Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season.
Whichever team signs Tanaka is going to get an impact pitcher. I have little doubt about that. Yu Darvish, the last big-name Japanese pitcher to come to the United States, has established himself as the Texas Rangers' ace. Tanaka's numbers in Japan are similar to those of Darvish:
Darvish (2005-11): 167 games, 1,281.1 IP, 93-28 W-L, 55 CG, 333 BB, 1,250 Ks
Tanaka (2007-13): 175 games, 1,315 IP, 99-35 W-L, 53 CG, 275 BB, 1,238 Ks
For me, the question about Tanaka is whether he will hold up healthwise over the life of the six- or seven-year contract he's going to get. I know, I know. He's only 25 and should be entering his prime years. But look at that innings total: 1,315 innings through his age 24 season
Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated made this point better than I could. Verducci notes the last pitcher with that many innings at such a young age was Frank Tanana, who piled up similar totals between 1973 and 1978. During that period, Tanana made three All-Star teams. Then, he hurt his shoulder. He went on to pitch another 15 years, but was never quite the same.
Going back even further, since 1961, Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven are the only three pitchers to have thrown 1,315 major league innings by age 24. So, indeed, Japanese pitchers like Darvish and Tanaka come to the United States with more wear and tear on their arm for their age than their American counterparts.
Darvish is one of the better pitchers in the American League right now. Will he continue to be effective through the life of his six-year contract? Nobody knows. For Tanaka, the issue is much the same. With his outstanding control and arsenal of pitches, he's going to make some team very happy in 2014 and probably 2015, too. But what about 2016 and beyond?
Will Tanaka become the next Hideo Nomo, who was outstanding his first couple years before morphing into a journeyman? Or is he going to be a long-term ace for the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers or some other big-market team? I wish I was smart enough to know, but we'll find out in due time.