Masahiro Tanaka is, without question, the premier talent among international free agents.
Only 25 years old, Tanaka had a historic season pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, registering a 24-0 record and 1.24 ERA during the regular season. The right-hander also carried a 30-game unbeaten streak, dating back to his final start of last year in the postseason.
Tanaka’s ridiculous streak came to an end on Saturday, as the Golden Eagles’ ace was saddled with his first loss in over a year. Starting Game 6 of the NPB title series, he threw 160 pitches in a 4-2 complete-game loss to the Yomiuri Giants. However, he did return to the mound on Sunday to pick up the save in the series-deciding Game 7.
At 6’2”, 200 pounds, Tanaka typically throws his fastball in the low 90s but can reach back for 95-96 mph when necessary. That being said, there is some concern as to how the pitch will translate in the major leagues given his lack of natural downhill plane towards the plate.
His primary secondary offering is a splitter that is flat-out nasty and features a devastating late tumbling action that causes it to drop off the table and draw ugly swings from opposing hitters. Tanaka’s slider represents a second plus offering that is thrown in the mid-80s with tight spin and sharp break. The right-hander also throws a decent curveball, though it pales in comparison to both the slider and splitter.
Now that his season is over, Tanaka is expected to be posted by the NPB and, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, could command upwards of $75 million just for negotiation rights. Whichever team ultimately signs the 25-year-old would be getting him for his prime years—assuming he’s able to make the jump directly to the major leagues—so expect there to be interest from a wide range of clubs.
According to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels, as well as the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Padres and Rockies could be major players in the Tanaka sweepstakes this offseason.