Less than two weeks into 2014, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have already granted record-setting Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka permission to sign with a major league club.
His 30-day signing period ends on Jan. 24 and Rakuten is owed a $20 million posting fee from the team that signs Tanaka, and literally every MLB club has been connected tangentially to the matter so it’s not worth speculating on who may or may not enter the Tanaka sweepstakes.
That said, the teams who are known to be big spenders are the ones most likely to get into the impending bidding war for the 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP last season while leading Rakuten to the Japan Series title.
Publicly the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees have been clamoring for him the most while the Seattle Mariners see him as their third ace after Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers also see him as a key piece to a World Series title.
I say he lands with one of these clubs — along with a blockbuster deal — and I’m counting the Giants and Athletics out of this auction, although the rumor mill will keep spinning as the deadline nears. San Francisco has its five-man rotation set and across the bay in Oakland there are seven starters for the A’s to work with.
The Giants are reportedly still interested in adding Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to their left field platoon of Michael Morse, Gregor Blanco and potentially Juan Perez. He’s not the player he once was, but I’d still prefer him in the lineup and manning left over Blanco or Perez.
Meanwhile utility man Kensuke Tanaka agreed to a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers after playing winter ball in Venezuela. The deal reunites him with longtime Nippon Ham Fighters teammate Yu Darvish.
Another ex-Giant, first baseman Travis Ishikawa, was signed to a minor league deal by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ishikawa helped San Francisco win the 2010 World Series and has since played for the Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles and Yankees.
Elsewhere, two-time A’s backstop Kurt Suzuki signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal to be the Minnesota Twins’ everyday catcher.
Over in Boston, the Red Sox have brought in 37-year-old right-handed submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe to compete for a starting spot or a role in the bullpen that features Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara.
In Toronto, the Blue Jays agreed to terms on a minor league deal with fan-favorite Munenori Kawasaki who hit a walk-off double to beat Orioles in May. His deal includes an invite to spring training. Veteran pitcher Tomo Ohka also recently signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays.
In an interesting move, the Cubs signed former Orioles injury case pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada to minor league deal. The lefty starter who signed with Baltimore for $8 million and never appeared in an MLB game due to Tommy John surgery will get another shot this spring. Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa is currently recovering from his own Tommy John surgery.
Lastly, former Cubs reliever and MLB veteran Hisanori Takahashi is returning to Japan to pitch for the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars while Hiroshima Toyo Carp ace Kenta Maeda has expressed interest in coming to the majors next season. Maeda was one of Japan’s starters in the 2013 World Baseball Classic along with Tanaka among others.
Drew Morita, a Yonsei from Kaua‘i, writes from San Francisco. Follow him @drewmorita or e-mail him at email@example.com.