NEW YORK -- Although they have yet to be officially notified by the Rakuten Golden Eagles that Masahiro Tanaka will not be released to enter Major League Baseball’s posting system, the New York Yankees are moving forward with plans to shore up their starting rotation minus the Japanese star right-hander.
A baseball source told ESPNNewYork.com the Yankees have yet to be told that Tanaka will not be posted -- The New York Times, which first reported the story, cited Japanese newspaper reports that claimed Tanaka will be informed by Rakuten officials on Friday of their decision -- but the club is operating under the assumption he will not be available.
“We’ve seen this coming for a couple of days now," said the source. “So it's not surprising at all."
Rakuten, which won the Japanese Series this year behind the pitching of Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, is said to be dissatisfied with the new posting arrangement between MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball League, which limits the posting fee -- the amount an MLB team must put up for the rights to bid on a Japanese player -- to $20 million.
Previously, posting fees have reached as high as the $51.7 million bid by the Texas Rangers for Yu Darvish in 2011. The new system is more beneficial to the player -- now more teams can afford the posting fee, creating more of a bidding war -- but of course, less lucrative for the team. Rakuten has reportedly decided to retain its control of Tanaka for two more seasons, after which he can become a free agent without having to be posted.
The Times reported that Rakuten will offer to double or even triple Tanaka’s $4 million yearly salary, making him the highest-paid pitcher in Japanese history, to compensate him for its decision.
In the meantime, sources within the Yankees organization say the team is likely to fill the remaining holes in its rotation through competition from within -- the leading candidates are David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno -- as well as with non-roster invites, a practice that worked well for them in 2010, when both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, signed to low-cost minor league deals, made the club in spring training and wound up making significant contributions during the regular season.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman indicated as much at last week’s GM meetings when he said, "I'd rather go the easier route and pull something down that someone's like, 'Good move,' but I don't know if that's going to happen. I might have to go the harder, longer route. We'll see."