LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball have reached an agreement in principle for a new posting system that will govern how Japanese players who haven't reached free agency in their native country will play in the United States. The remaining hurdle, which is considered a formality, is ratification by MLB's executive council and Japanese owners.
The story was first reported by the New York Post.
Under the arrangement, there will be a limit of $20 million on any bid by teams interested in signing a Japanese player. If more than one team reaches the maximum, the player is free to negotiate with any team that reached the cap.
With the possibility that Rakuten Golden Eagles star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA during the regular season, could become available this winter, MLB sought significant changes that would allow more teams to have an opportunity to sign Japanese players. Just two years ago, the Texas Rangers bid $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish before signing the right-hander to a six-year, $60 million contract.
The Golden Eagles still must agree to post the 25-year-old Tanaka, who has two more years in Japan before he can become an unrestricted free agent, and, at this point, club officials haven't revealed whether they'll make him available. They could conceivably decide to get one more year from him on the assumption that they would still be able to get the $20 million next offseason. Or they could keep him two more years and let him walk for no compensation.
Aki Sasaki, Rakuten's assistant general manager, said that with Japan's Spring Training starting Feb. 1, the drop-dead date to post Tanaka is rapidly approaching.
"Yes, yes, yes. As soon as possible," Sasaki said. "There's nothing we can do. We can only hope that he's going to stay with us one more year, maybe two more years, as long with the team as he can. That's what we hope. You know? He needs two more years before he becomes a free agent. It's up to us."
Sasaki was asked if it's still Tanaka's preference to play in the Major Leagues in 2014.
"Last year ... we had a meeting with him and he just expressed that it was his dream to play in the States," Sasaki said. "We understood. At that time, during that posting system, that's what we promised to him. After the 2013 decision, we would discuss your dream. Now that the posting system has been changed, we are undecided."
Sasaki added that it's "tough to say" what factors will go into the team's decision.
"The new posting system is completely different from the old one. And the new system hasn't been approved yet. It's very tough for us to make a decision so quickly," he explained. "I don't know if the $20 million is a fair value for this trade. We are not sure. I don't know if it's at the right price or value for this type of trade."
Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana was less forthcoming, largely limiting his remarks to confirming that he doesn't know whether or not Tanaka will be posted. He said he will talk to the pitcher when he returns to Japan and after the new posting system, which he said he found disappointing, becomes official.
One NPB official predicted that announcement will happen shortly.
"You can ask the MLB people, but probably sometime next week," the source said. "Not this week at any time. Probably next week. I think tentatively between MLB and NPB, we have a deal in place. But the owners both here and there have to ratify the agreement."
The Major League Baseball Players Association also has to sign off, but there are strong indications the union favors the changes.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Barry M. Bloom and T.R. Sullivan contributed to this story.