NEW YORK -- The Yankees have taken their first steps in pursuit of Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka, touching base with the right-hander's representatives, according to multiple reports.
Newsday and the New York Daily News reported on Saturday that the Yankees have been among the first clubs to make contact with agent Casey Close, who is handling Tanaka's negotiations for Excel Sports Management.
The Yankees are not expected to make an offer until next week at the earliest, but they have identified the 25-year-old Tanaka as a top priority in an offseason that has already seen them commit more than $300 million to free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
General manager Brian Cashman has been seeking a frontline arm to add to a rotation that currently projects to include CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and several other candidates. The Yankees have seemed unimpressed by the remaining crop of free-agent starters.
Tanaka posted a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA last season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League, leading his club to a championship, and he could command a contract that exceeds $100 million. There will also be a posting fee owed to Rakuten by Tanaka's signing club, a figure capped at $20 million.
The size of Tanaka's expected salary suggests that the Yankees are prepared to exceed the $189 million payroll figure if necessary. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly said that the $189 million figure is a goal but not a mandate, and team officials have grown weary of discussing it in recent weeks.
The Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and Mariners are among the clubs believed to be preparing to join the pursuit of Tanaka, who will have until 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 24 to sign a contract if he intends to pitch in the Majors in 2014.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.