The saga surrounding Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's future continues to evolve as the Rakuten Golden Eagles weigh whether they will post the superstar to make him available to Major League teams this offseason.
According to several reports in Japan cited by the New York Times on Thursday, the team is preparing to tell Tanaka that it will not post him this winter. Instead, the reports said, the Eagles will offer to double or triple his salary for 2014 as they look to defend their Nippon Professional Baseball title with their star pitcher on the mound.
However, a report on Sponichi, as cited by Yakyubaka.com, quoted Eagles president Yozo Tachibana telling reporters in the team's hometown of Sendai on Thursday that the team was still undecided about what to do regarding Tanaka's status.
A Sports Hochi report, as cited by Yakyubaka.com, said the team is prepared to offer Tanaka 800 million yen, or about $7.7 million U.S., which would eclipse the all-time highest salary for a Japanese pitcher of 650 million yen to Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2004-05.
Tanaka would not be a free agent outside of Japan until 2015 (he can become a free-agent within Nippon Professional Baseball after 2014), so whichever Japanese club who retains his rights can choose to post him until that time. In Japan players earn domestic free agency after eight years of service and international free agency after nine years.
The Eagles of the Pacific League voted against a new posting agreement announced earlier this week, which caps posting fees at $20 million. Previously, fees ranged as high as $51.7 million for Yu Darvish, paid by the Rangers to the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2011.
Tanaka, 25, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA to lead the Eagles to their first NPB title last year, his seventh season since debuting at age 18. Tanaka, who also had a 1.27 ERA in 2011 while pitching 14 complete games and six shutouts that year, is 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in 175 appearances (172 starts) for his career.
If the Eagles do post Tanaka before a Feb. 1 deadline, the pitcher would be eligible to negotiate a contract with any Major League team that offers the top fee, which in this case surely will be the $20 million maximum, presumably made by several Major League teams. A 30-day negotiating window would then begin, and if Tanaka did not sign within that time, he would return to the Eagles and no fee would be collected. Otherwise, he would sign with a Major League team and move his career to the U.S.
But none of that will come to pass if the Eagles opt not to post Tanaka as available to U.S. teams this winter.
According to reports, the pitcher continued to work out at the team's stadium this week, and it is expected he will meet with the club in the coming days. Tanaka met with the team Tuesday, with the pitcher telling Tachibana that he wanted to try to play in the Major Leagues next season, and Tachibana saying Tanaka is an important part of their team.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.