Sox meet with Masahiro Tanaka in L.A.

CHICAGO -- Whether it was former general manager Kenny Williams or current GM Rick Hahn, the main Chicago White Sox player-personnel decision makers have always been willing to kick the tires on the biggest of baseball deals.

And so it was again Thursday, as the White Sox sent three key members of the organization to meet with Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and his representatives in the Los Angeles area.

Williams, now the team's executive vice president, Hahn and manager Robin Ventura met with the pitcher, which explains the absence of all three from Frank Thomas' Hall of Fame news conference Wednesday.

Tanaka is the hottest free-agent starting pitcher on the market after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan this past season. The 25-year-old right-hander already has seven years of professional experience in Japan after making his debut in 2007. He is 99-35 in his career with a 2.30 ERA, making 172 starts.

Hahn was quoted in a White Sox statement released Thursday evening.

"The meeting was exploratory in nature," Hahn said. "It was an opportunity for us to sit down with Masahiro and discuss how he potentially fits our vision for the Chicago White Sox for the next several seasons."

To acquire Tanaka, a major league team will first have to pay a $20 million posting fee. That doesn't count the contract the team will have to negotiate with the pitcher.

Yu Darvish was the last pitcher from Japan to undergo a free-agent frenzy like Tanaka is seeing. The Texas Rangers put up the largest posting fee at $51.7 million, then signed the right-hander to a six-year $60 million deal. Posting fees are no longer blind, capping out at $20 million.

Tanaka is currently in a 30-day negotiating window. He has until Jan. 24 to reach a deal with a major league team. Jan. 24 also is the first day of SoxFest, the team's annual fan convention.

The White Sox say they will make no other statement on Tanaka until the pitcher makes his final decision public.

The removal of the blind posting system makes a team like the White Sox more of a legitimate contender for Tanaka's services. The club, however, has not been considered one of the favorites to land the pitcher, who struck out as many as 241 batters in 2011.