Should Mets Bid On Masahiro Tanaka?


For those who celebrate the holiday, Merry Christmas! Hope Santa was good to you. For those who don’t celebrate, Happy Hump Day!

Late last night, the Rakuten Golden Eagles announced that they would post right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. In 7 pro seasons, the 25-year-old has 53 complete games and 18 shutouts with a 1.10 WHIP. His K/BB rate is 4.5 (8.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9).

In the new posting system, the highest possible bid is $20M. So in effect, any MLB team that is willing to post $20M can negotiate with Tanaka. If a team posts a bid and fails to sign Tanaka, the team has their bid returned to them. The signing deadline is January 24, 2014.

Will the Mets post up to $20M to enter the sweepstakes? Should they?

First off, I know nothing at all about Tanaka, other than his stats. From what I understand, he has excellent command of a ow- to mid-90s fastball with so-so movement; a split-fingered fastball that drops off the table in a way that recalls Bruce Sutter, and a slider that may or may not be as good as the one thrown by Yu Darvish. I understand he can also mix in a curveball on occasion.

Here’s what I do know: he’s already pitched 7 pro seasons and dominated Japan’s top league, and he just turned 25 in November. So in essence, this is an opportunity to sign someone who would be a #1 overall pick in the amateur draft, with the bonus of already proving himself at a professional level — dare I say, it’s comparable to the bidding for Tom Seaver back in 1966.

For just a moment, pretend that you agree with that comparison — would YOU pay $20M for the chance to negotiate with a 25-year-old Tom Seaver? (OK, you’re going to have to stretch your imagination just a little more, and also pretend that a 25-year-old Seaver hasn’t yet thrown a Major League pitch.) And if you would be willing to give up that posting fee, how much would you then offer Seaver, in terms of years and dollars?

When you’re starting at $20M, it’s an expensive roll of the dice. There is talk that Tanaka may ultimately get a multi-year contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $100M. If that’s the case, is it worth spending up to $120M for a pitcher who may or may not be an ace? Who may not even be good enough to be a fifth starter?

It’s a tough call, regardless of whether you’re the Mets, the Yankees, the Cubs, or any other MLB team. A team that it’s in the bidding, I would assume, has done their due diligence in scouting Tanaka the same way they’d scout an American amateur pitcher. The main difference is that NPB hitters are probably better than most college hitters and all high school hitters — so there’s a bit less projection in the evaluation.

One reason the gamble may be worth it is the fact that it’s highly unlikely that the amateur draft will ever provide someone who is as close to a “can’t miss” as Tanaka — and yet, a team interested in his services needn’t finish last for the chance to sign him, doesn’t have to waste a draft pick on him, and isn’t subjected to the recently imposed penalties regarding signing bonuses for drafted players. This is a huge consideration, in my opinion. In my mind, teams should look at Tanaka as a rare opportunity to spend money they would have spent on the amateur draft if not for the taxes set forth in the current collective bargaining agreement. So for example, a team might plan to budget up to $10M per year on paying “over slot,” but since they’ll now be penalized for over-spending in the amateur draft, that $10M is reallocated — and choose to reallocate that $10M every year for 5-8 years for Tanaka? Thinking about it that way — as money you would be spending anyway, if the amateur draft bonus rules were less stringent — and suddenly, spending $120M for Tanaka isn’t so difficult to wrap one’s head around, because a good chunk of the sum is “found money.”

It’s very possible that Tanaka won’t succeed in MLB the way many believe. It’s entirely possible that he’ll never perform well enough to be worth a $100M+ investment. But that’s only if you look at Tanaka and the money in a vacuum — as if that money wouldn’t have been otherwise spent elsewhere, if a team had the opportunity to spend it.

It sounds like Tanaka is a rare opportunity to acquire a top talent without having to use or give up a draft pick — he is, for all intents and purposes, a very expensive free-agent who has not been given a qualifying offer. But one who is only 25, rather than over 30. Unless a team’s scouting department has come back with a negative evaluation, it seems to me to be a no-brainer to at least get in on the bidding and see what happens.

There’s one other issue to consider: how does a long-term contract for Tanaka affect other pitchers on a team’s roster? In other words, if the Mets ultimately win the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, and commit, say, 7 years and $100M to him — what will Matt Harvey be looking to get when he negotiates his first long-term contract with the Mets? Then again, it could turn out that 7/$100M is a bargain for Tanaka — does anyone have a crystal ball?

What do you think? Should the Mets be willing to part with $20M, and be in on the Masahiro Tanaka bidding? Why or why not? Answer in the comments.

Mets Item of the Day

Since we’re talking about rolling the dice on Masahiro Tanaka, a pair of New York Mets Plush Team Fuzzy Dice seems appropriate. Get a pair to hang from your rearview mirror — they’re only five bucks.


Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. pal88 December 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm
    • Joe Janish December 27, 2013 at 2:49 pm
      Why not?
  2. NormE December 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm
    Some points:
    1. It’s all academic because the Wilpons won’t/can’t come up with the money.
    2. I’m not sure that, even with the money, that Sandy Alderson would consider the expenditure as good value based on his more conservative philosophy.
    3. A decision on spending this kind of money shouldn’t be based on a projection of what Matt Harvey might want sometime in the future. With Scott Boras as his agent, Harvey will be shooting for the moon in any future negotiations. If he’s healthy and able to regain his form the chances are excellent that he will leave the Mets when he becomes a FA.
    4. Based on the success of Yu Darvish, I’d bid for Tanaka.
    • izzy December 26, 2013 at 9:06 am
      I have a question for Norm and everyone else. Do you all really think that having Boras for an agent is significantly different than having another agent? Do other agents not try their best to get every cent they can for their clients? Does Boras not adhere to his cleinets wishes? Do you think that if a client tells Boras he wants to stay with a team even at a discount, that Boras will sign him to another team anyway? Other than his publicity and gamesmanship, what does he really do differently to represent his client. In my mind, if other agents do less for their client, then all players should hire boras.
      • NormE December 26, 2013 at 10:49 am
        Good question, Izzy. The use of Boras’ name does not put down other agents. It’s being used as an example of the type of aggressive thinking that represents both the player and the agent in contract negotiations. Sure, Boras will do what the player wishes, but his advice is an integral part of the picture. Based on past experience Boras, as might other agents, will push for the most money—-it also probably means more money for him. In any case, my point was that Harvey will probably be moving on when the time comes.
        • izzy December 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm
          Got it Norm and I agree with you about agents!!
  3. sonicbacon December 25, 2013 at 10:56 pm
    Merry Christmas!

    I think that if the Mets can get him that would be a great holiday present.

    Unfortunately I don’t know much about him either. Stats don’t lie however. 24 wins and no losses and an ERA under 2. These numbers are dominating!

    Sure Japanese baseball isn’t MLB, but they have good teams and good players over there. Also, a lot of their best players end up over here if they want to be. Why let another team get the first crack at him?

    Financially speaking, if it is true that the Mets financial woes are officially over, they need to put up or shut up.

    GET HIM!

  4. Zozo December 26, 2013 at 12:42 am
    I would go 7years $120-$140 mil, u will make at least half of that back by marketing him in Japan alone. They wouldnt make anywhere close to that on a homegrown guy. I know people will say pitching is our strength, so now we can go out and trade dillon gee or niese for a better bat.
    I also don’t think Harvey will stay here in four years when his contract is up, boras is gonna want top dollar for him. So I can see them trading him away a year before free agency.
    This would be too smart of a move for them to make, so they won’t go for it.
  5. izzy December 26, 2013 at 9:00 am
    If the Mets had ownership, marketers and a GM living in the 21st Century, Tanaka would be a no brainer. The endless whine about the cost misses the boat and explains why the Mets will rarely be good under the Wilpons/Alderson antiquated management. What would this do?? It would get back the money in a flash. Why? Hmm, lets see, first the regualr old Met fan base would get excited and do something they haven’t done in several years… tickets. Secondly, marketing sales of Tanaka merchandise would be sold well beyond what Colon,Granderson, CYoung stuff would sell for. Thirdly, companies in the New York area who do business woith Japanese concerns would buy season tickets to take their clients to see the great Tanaka. Buty alas, all the Wilpons know is ponzii schemes, all Alderson knows is PEDS make crappy players excel, and the marketing is stolen from POittsburgh where bobble heads and fireworks keep a franchise alive while waiting for the miracle every 20 years or so. Too bad for us.
    • crozier December 26, 2013 at 11:18 am
      How is committing $120 million ever a no-brainer for any club? You were against spending big on Choo – granted, not a superstar, but someone who would have without question made a significant improvement in the Mets’ ability to score runs. How many more games would the Mets have won in 2013 with Choo as their leadoff guy? Enough to be respectable, possibly.

      If the Mets are going to make a bold move, I’d be looking for a bat, not an arm.

      • izzy December 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm
        Crozier, you are always fast to criticize and demand others state their opinions while you express exactly none. Choo, how in the oworld would he be a Met in 2o13 when he wasn’t on the market. Sure crozier the Mets would have won ,more games with Choo last year, that is pure genius on your part, but they also would have won more with Reyes, even injured half the year and he is one guy your man Loserson let walk for nothing. ..And obviously, you are clueless about economics or you wouldn’t have wqritten your inane comments to an opinion,without having one shred of a thought as to why it was wrong. Its not fun debating you since you appear to have no thoughts of your own. Tell us your ideas, if they aren’t a plagiarism of Loserson,. Can you do it Corazier?
        • crozier December 27, 2013 at 1:39 am
          Yes, Izzy, I can express my opinion. And I do; my comment history backs that up. Odd that you, of all people, criticize my supposed tendency to criticize, though.

          Sorry if my Choo comment tied you up. I was talking theory when I imagined the impact a player like Choo would have brought to the club in 2013. And I did so to emphasize that more pitching will not score runs. I do think the 2014 Mets have a better offense than the 2013 club, but I don’t think it’s nearly enough.

          If I thought the club could fork over hundreds of millions over the next 5-7 years to sign pitchers and hitters, I’d welcome Tanaka. I just don’t think the money’s there. I’d love to be wrong about that.

      • Joe Janish December 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm
        Crozier, I’d have to agree with izzy on Choo, because Choo is 31 years old and to me, 7+ years is too long for a player of that age. 7-10 for a 25-year-old pitcher is easier to swallow, in my opinion.

        As for looking to make a move, that’s not what Tanaka is about. The Tanaka situation is a rare opportunity to acquire a potentially elite player for nothing other than cash. It’s been happening about once a year for the past few years — i.e., Chapman, Puig, Cespedes, Darvish — but I’m not sure how much longer the streak is going to occur. I get the feeling there’s been a rash of international stars, and the well is going to dry out sooner rather than later. The Mets shouldn’t pass on Tanaka because they need a bat — they should take a shot at Tanaka because they may not have another chance to acquire a pitcher of his age and quality, for nothing but cash, for another ten years.

  6. izzy December 26, 2013 at 9:02 am
    Whooops…. somehow I got Colon granderson as my new name. sorry, don’t like it!
    • Joe Janish December 27, 2013 at 2:50 pm
      Fixed. Grandy’s agent called and demanded it be fixed immediately.
  7. Zozo December 26, 2013 at 10:14 am
    It’s just about 99% fact that Boras brings his guy to free agency and doesn’t let his guys sign with his original team before then. If Harvey didn’t get hurt we would be talking about signing him to a long term contract this offseason or the next. But since he has Boras as an agent we probably wouldn’t even think about wasting our time.
    I think about now you might hear the Nats talking about extending Harper and Strausberg but I haven’t heard anything, and I think that has to do with Boras being their agent.
    • izzy December 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm
      Zozo, as far as the Nats, there has been a lot of talk in DC about Harper. He was signed to a long term contract when he originally signed with the Nats, but the left open the possibility of the deal being nullified when he (Harper) reached arbitration eligibility. They never resolved it and I believe they are negoitating this. It doesn’t make Harper a FA, just a player who can go to arb. Strasburg also signed a long term contract when he originally signed which is why there has been nothing about him. MLBtraderumore did a lseries about why different players use different agents, and I think if they have archives, you’d get a different picture of Boras. Yes, he plays games to get the most $$, yes he envcourages Ffree agency, but he also has his own health and weight clinics and programs for them which helps them NOT to use PEDS and encourages them to use reputable experts when deciding what to put in their body. The players also said that he does what they want. Check it out.
  8. blastingzone December 26, 2013 at 10:55 am
    The Wilpons need to instruct Sandy to post the money after all what do they have to loose if they can’t sign him
    they get there 20 million back but considering they didn’t
    post the money for Abreu because they have a log jam of
    first baseman why would they post the 20 million for Tanaka! Funny the Yankee’s and dodgers among other teams think he’s worth it? Harvey is going to get his money if they sign Tanaka or not!!It must be tough on the Wilpons to own a small market team? Cheap, Cheap, Cheap!!
  9. Andy December 26, 2013 at 11:24 am
    The $20 million posting fee is really a no-brainer. I actually will be surprised if any of the teams in the MLB declines that raffle ticket. There’s so little downside, since after all if you fail to sign Tanaka then you get your $20 million back.
    • Joe Janish December 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm
      From what I’ve heard, a team doesn’t technically have to put up $20M to negotiate with Tanaka — they merely have to be willing to pay that fee to Rakuten if they sign him.

      I would have included that in the original post but wasn’t sure about it at the time (I’m still not 100% positive).

      • Andy December 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm
        Even better. Huge moral hazard, though. What’s to stop any team, that has little or no actual interest in Tanaka, from bidding the $20 million max and then stiffing him in the contract negotiation? Surely there’d be an incentive to do that if you want to mess with the market for your competitors.

        Not clear to me really that he’ll get a $100 million contract in the circumstances. He only gets to negotiate with one club, and they lose nothing if they don’t sign him. Why pay him more than, say, 110% of the best contract he could possibly get in Japan?

        • Andy December 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm
          Correction: It’s not a raffle ticket; it’s a cover charge. *Every* club that matches the highest bid gets to negotiate with Tanaka. So you could easily have 20 MLB clubs each bidding the max $20 million posting fee, and Tanaka could negotiate with all 20. So yeah, a $100+ million contract seems likely. Could still be worth it, even if he is just a Koosman rather than a Seaver.
  10. DanS December 26, 2013 at 11:46 am
    The current Mets ownership wouldn’t even bid on a 25-year-old Seaver…or they’d trade him to the Reds (Wait, that’s already been done!)

    Happy New Year to Mets fans everywhere!

  11. Zozo December 26, 2013 at 11:50 am
    You are right it is a gamble, but every player is. But the difference is you are opening up your team to making more $$$ off Tanaka because u are making $$$$ in the Japanese market. That would help pay some of his salary. Also if Giancarlo Stanton was available at 8yr $160 mil on the free agent market, I would say that’s what the Mets would need, not Ellsbury at that price.
    If the Mets got tanaka you might be able to trade Gee to Arizona for one of their surplus shortstops?
    • izzy December 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm
      Exactly Zozo. Ungfortunately, Alderson Wilpon and Crozier are several decades behind the world and don’t understand the economic value in NY of a true Japanese star on your team, nor how to better it by making moves through areas of strength and depth..
      • Crozier December 27, 2013 at 12:32 am
        Yes Izzy. Very “ungfortunate.” But your keyboard skills are positively ungforgivable.

        If you’re saying the Mets, in their current financial position, can lay out $120 million for an unproven pitcher and then trade off proven pitching for impact bats and somehow take on those salary requirements, rest assured I can wrap my head around the concept. Is it financially feasible? Does it make sense? Do I think the Mets, by the grace of one Japanese pitcher, can court a significant slice of the Metropolitan-area Japanese-American baseball fan base to make a financial difference?

        Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all that were true? It would. And I wish it were true.

        Side question: wasn’t Alderson, Wilpon & Crozier a ’70s progressive rock band?

        • Joe Janish December 27, 2013 at 1:28 am
          I swear Alderson, Wilpon, & Crozier once opened for Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (or was it PFM?) in Milan.
  12. crozier December 27, 2013 at 1:31 am
    Explain why you think the well will run dry. Why couldn’t it expand?

    If your question was theoretical — that is, if Tanaka is Seaver, do you sigh him? — then sure, go for it. Is he actually going to be an elite pitcher in the majors? His arm’s seen a lot of use in his career. Maybe he has 7 quality years left, maybe he has none. For me to venture as to whether it would be a good move would be nonsense; I have no useful data to work with.

    Choo, as I’ve clearly stated elsewhere, wouldn’t be my first pick, and I never championed him. But if the Mets were committed to spending real money, right now, I’d still go with a proven on-base/offense guy over an unproven pitcher. If that’s short-sighted, so be it, but it’s also irrelevant, since the Mets probably won’t do either.

    • Joe Janish December 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm
      The well will run dry because there is a finite number of spectacular baseball talents on the planet, and most of them are already playing in MLB. If there is an outstanding baseball player in the world at age 18+ and not living in Cuba or Japan, he’s already either signed to a pro contract or in a major college program. Therefore, there are only two places where “free” (meaning, no draft pick) elite players can come from — Cuba and Japan. I do believe we will see more players coming from those two countries, but I don’t believe they’re going to annually turn out elite talents — the odds are against it, especially considering the populations of those two countries.

      MAYBE we’ll begin seeing great ballplayers coming from Europe in the next ten years, but by then, the draft will likely be international in scope.

      • crozier December 27, 2013 at 6:38 pm
        Maybe it’s finite, but I think that if more Cubans have the opportunity to play in the US for big money, more elite athletes there will choose to play baseball. Surely there’s some potential for a boom as there was in the Dominican Republic in the 50s-early 70s.

        What would be even better, though, is McCutchen’s high-profile status encouraging more black American athletes to play professional baseball. The decline in that area over the last few decades is depressing.

  13. John D. December 27, 2013 at 8:21 pm
    Absolutely yes. I know that starting pitching is a strength (or the only strength) of the team, but World Series can be won with very strong pitching and mediocre offense. The SF Giants proved this twice in the recent past. The first time the Giants won the Series, Benji freakin’ Molina was their clean-up hitter. Obviously, I also think Tanaka is real deal. Putting up numbers like that in the Japanese league is not a fluke.

    Unfortunately, as other posters have pointed out, this will never happen, given the pathetic state of Mets’ ownership.

  14. CleonJames December 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm
    It’s a moot point. But if they can get him it would be a turning point for the Mets of this bad spell from 2007-2013.
  15. Joe December 30, 2013 at 2:59 pm
    “t’s a tough call, regardless of whether you’re the Mets, the Yankees, the Cubs, or any other MLB team.”

    So, even w/o the “the Mets ownership sucks” being taken into consideration, it is a “tough call” that has to balance the various costs/benefits. Factoring in the reality of the Mets situation, and the fact money isn’t unlimited, it is a tougher call. Spend lots on this gamble, you have less to spend and/or gamble on bats, which the Mets need. They have more promising pitchers in that department.

    If they were willing and able to spend the money & it would not negatively affect (in the real world, not in pretend world) too much their ability to get the bats they also need to thrive long term, it could very well be worth it. But, that a lot of ifs.