The Red Sox could benefit, at least temporarily, from an ongoing dispute between Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan over a revised posting system that could mean highly coveted Rakuten Golden Eagles righthander Masahiro Tanaka will not be pitching stateside in 2014.
The Yankees are seen as the most aggressive pursuer of the 25-year-old Tanaka, who went 24-0 this past season. The Yankees are going to get better one way or another and help their pitching staff, but Tanaka is the one potential addition they consider to be an elite pitcher.
There have been indications the Yankees could go as high as $70 million for a posting fee. If so, the only thing they’d have to worry about is whether the Dodgers, who have an endless flow of cash, would trump them. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was asked last week about the team’s interest in bidding on Tanaka and said, “We haven’t reached that point yet.” The Cubs have stated they are in on Tanaka.
One prominent agent — who wished not to be identified — with extensive experience with the Japanese market believes many other teams, including the Red Sox, are interested.
The Red Sox were burned by the Daisuke Matsuzaka bidding and may not want to enter the posting system again for an expensive starter.
The posting system, which was implemented in 1998, has caused some friction between small-market and large-market teams. The small-market teams feel they’re at a disadvantage because they don’t have the upfront cash to bid against the large-market teams.
At last week’s general manager meetings, Pirates president Frank Coonelly got into a war of words with Yankees president Randy Levine when Coonelly suggested that the posting fee be counted against the luxury tax. That didn’t go over well with the large-market teams, many of whom are already up in arms at the amount of revenue sharing they have to pay out to the have-nots, if there is such a thing in major league baseball.
Levine countered that if the posting system were to be changed, so should the rules in acquiring Cuban players.
The players’ union has already informed MLB chief operating officer Ron Manfred that it’s not going to go along with the posting fee being held against the luxury tax. That, of course, would severely limit payrolls, even those of big-market teams such as the Yankees, who are trying to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshhold.
The posting system has been a boon for Japanese teams for years since the Mariners posted $13 million for Ichiro Suzuki in 2000, and it has just skyrocketed from there.
The Seibu Lions received $51.11 million from the Red Sox for the right to negotiate a six-year, $52 million deal with Matsuzaka after the 2006 season. The Rangers paid the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters $51.7 million and then negotiated a six-year, $60 million deal with Yu Darvish.
Tanaka throws a mid-90s fastball and a split-fingered pitch. Any professional pitcher who goes 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, and 183 strikeouts in 212 innings must be pretty good, even if those numbers came against Japanese hitters. He’s described as a Hiroki Kuroda type but with crisper stuff.
But MLB knows that elite Japanese players are only affordable to the big-market teams. You don’t see the Rays or Royals go after these players because they can’t afford the posting fee.
MLB proposed to Japanese officials that the team with the highest posting bid actually pay out the average of the top two offers, something that would provide some relief to the winning bidder. But when NPB didn’t act swiftly, Manfred pulled the proposal and the posting system is now in limbo.
MLB wants to change the system it created many years ago, feeling it’s now antiquated and unfair. We know that small-market teams want equal footing when competing for these players. How about the agents?
The aforementioned agent’s take on the posting mess was, “I think what MLB is doing is ridiculous. This is the system they wanted and now after many years of doing things this way they decide it’s unfair? The Japanese teams have also paid big money over the years for 4-A players that MLB has sold to them, so why should they profit by losing an elite player who is not yet a free agent?”
You have to serve nine seasons with a team in NPB before you can become a pure free agent. If you want to leave for MLB before that you must be posted.
“The proposal I’ve heard, of top bidder only having to pay the average of the top two bids, is absurd,” said the agent. “Why would NPB ever go along with that?”
The agent believes that the posting issue will be resolved in everyone’s best interest.
But quickly enough for the Yankees to land Tanaka?
THE LONELIEST NUMBER
Count on a long wait to 300 again
When Randy Johnson defeated the Nationals June 4, 2009, he won his 300th game. He might have been the last pitcher for a while to do that.
“Given the money starting pitchers are making and the fact they’re so protected, I can’t see a scenario where we’d ever see one,” said former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
“You’d need to win 15 games for 20 years straight,” Schilling said. “Hard to see it.”
Johnson, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux
Changes in the way starting pitchers are being used certainly make it difficult to project a young pitcher getting that far.
With Andy Pettitte (256 wins) retired, Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia will open next season with the most wins (205) among active pitchers. Hudson, 38, may pitch a couple of more seasons. Sabathia, 33, could go on for a while, though he showed signs of slowing down last season with the Yankees. He would need about 16 wins per season over the next six years to approach 300.
To get close to 300 is quite a feat, which is why guys such as Jim Kaat (283, and 16 Gold Gloves) and Tommy John (288) have to get another look for Hall of Fame consideration.
So benchmarks will have to be recalibrated for Cooperstown. Three hundred wins meant automatic inclusion. What will it be adjusted to?
“It has nothing to do with talent,” Glavine said, “because the talent is there. Given how the game has changed, how you really have to pitch 20 years, how much power the pitchers have now and how they’re more susceptible to injuries, I think it would very difficult to win 300 games. Pitchers give up wins in the seventh and eighth innings now because bullpens are so much more involved.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro might have misspoke in describing signee Marlon Byrd as a “high-character” person. Tough to agree considering the 50-game PED suspension and the domestic abuse incident in his past.
2. Couldn’t quite understand the outrage by some over Miguel Cabrera beating out Mike Trout for AL MVP. Does helping your team to the playoffs mean anything? Trout is the superior defensive player, plus has the base-running dimension with 33 steals. Cabrera’s OBP was .442 to Trout’s .432. His OPS was 1.078 to Trout’s .988. Cabrera hit .348 with 44 homers and knocked in 137 runs while Trout hit .323 with 27 homers and 97 RBIs. Cabrera also played hurt while his team was vying for the playoffs. Trout had a 10.0 offensive WAR while Cabrera’s was 9.0. So tell me, why the outrage?
3. Toronto, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles Angels, Washington, Kansas City, and Colorado can’t afford to misfire this offseason without fear of significant changes in their front offices.
4. The Orioles seem so close to being the team to beat in the AL East, with a solid core of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. The feeling is they need one solid starting pitcher and a DH and they’d take their chances. The Orioles are hoping Kevin Gausman takes the next step and becomes that dominant starter to go along with Chris Tillman, but Dan Duquette is determined to find that frontline starter while keeping close watch on Carlos Beltran and perhaps Kendrys Morales.
5. Couldn’t tell really, but I thought Tampa Bay owner Stu Sternberg’s ears perked up when I mentioned Montreal.
6. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is going to expand the roles of former Red Sox players Bill Mueller and Aaron Sele. Mueller has been a special assistant focusing more on scouting, but next season he’ll be doing more instruction. Sele, who has been Colletti’s pitching adviser, may also take on an instructional role.
7. Could this be the year the Red Sox retire Wade Boggs’s number?
8. Jeff Kent will get a check on my Hall of Fame ballot.
9. Two guys I believe in for next season — Derek Jeter returning strong from his ankle injury and Roy Halladay pitching effectively for some team. Two of the most committed competitors you’ll ever see.
10. Former Red Sox lefty David Wells, who dabbled in TV for a while, really wants to become a full-time pitching coach.
Updates on nine
1. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres — There’s growing sentiment that Headley will be traded this offseason. There’s been talk about an extension, but the Padres, who are now willing to increase payroll under CEO Mike Dee’s leadership, are thinking that they can improve a couple of different areas long-term by dealing their third baseman. Dee is hoping to “win our fans back. We have to build trust with our fans that when we make a move it’s for the good of the franchise, a good baseball move rather than a perception that we’re trying to trim payroll. We need our fans to trust us as an organization again.”
2. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles — The Orioles likely won’t deal Wieters unless it’s in a blockbuster that would improve their pitching. Wieters should be a better offensive player (.235, .704 OPS in 2013) than he is, though 22 homers and 79 RBIs for a catcher isn’t something to sneeze at. Orioles pitchers allowed a stunning 176 homers last season with Wieters behind the plate, most among major league catchers. He also finished last in that category in 2011 (151) and second in 2012 (144).
3. Alfredo Aceves, RHP, free agent — Aceves called his former agent, Tom O’Connell, and asked him to represent him again. According to O’Connell, Aceves apologized for firing him in the first place and now wants him to spearhead his free agency. Aceves is working out in Mexico. The Mets have shown the most interest so far.
4. Rajai Davis, OF, free agent — The New London, Conn., native stole 45 bases last season and played for John Farrell in Toronto. Could he be a Red Sox target if they are in the market for speed? Davis has a few shortcomings — career OBP of .316 and career OPS of .693 — but he can run.
5. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, free agent — For Ellsbury to re-sign with the Red Sox, he would have to be willing to accept a five-year deal that likely would not surpass $100 million. The Mariners, Rangers, Yankees, Tigers, Giants, and Phillies seem to have some form of interest, but whether they go into the 6-8 year range at $20 million plus per season remains to be seen.
6. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — Rumors that Bautista could be dealt for pitching have persisted for a couple of offseasons but the Blue Jays haven’t wanted to break up the Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion dynamic in the middle of the order. The Jays are desperate for at least two starting pitchers and dealing Bautista may land them one. “It’s a name we’re hearing through backchannels right now, but wouldn’t be surprised if he’s available” said an NL general manager. Bautista was one of Farrell’s personal favorites in Toronto, however it’s doubtful the Blue Jays would deal within the division — even though the Red Sox have extra pitching.
7. Justin Morneau, 1B, free agent — Morneau is being mentioned as a low-cost option for teams such as Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and possibly Texas. The Rays have Morneau on their radar now that James Loney, who played for $2 million in 2013 and had a good year, wants to be paid.
8. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — Sandoval is available in a deal, but it’s certainly a case of buyer beware because of his weight issues. The Giants have tried everything to get Sandoval to adhere to weight restrictions and sometimes they have worked. But not last season. Sandoval is a gifted hitter. His brother recently posted photos of Sandoval working out in Venezuela, trying to show that he’s taking his conditioning seriously. Sandoval can also play first base and may have a market at either position.
9. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets — Mets officials are torn: trade Davis or keep him? Perhaps Davis finds himself again and becomes the 32-home run hitter he was two years ago, not the guy who lost all of his hitting mechanics last season. So the Mets have listened to proposals and ideas on Davis, and while they may not necessarily pull the trigger on a deal they know they can’t endure another season with no production from first base.
From the Bill Chuck Files: “Joe Mauer was 17 for 41 against curves this season; his .415 BA was the best in baseball.” Also, “You need 502 PA to qualify for the batting title. Since 2008, the Sox have had only two shortstops qualify: Marco Scutaro (695 PA in 2010) and Mike Aviles (546 PA in 2012) . . . Happy birthday Darnell McDonald (35), Tom Seaver (69), and Gary Bell (77).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.