The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles appear to be playing the most epic game of chicken in history with star right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
After earlier reports suggested the team was not going to put Tanaka up for Major League Baseball teams to bid on, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, citing a report from Japan's Sankei Sports, broke the story on Dec. 24 that the 25-year-old will be posted.
Golden Eagles announce Tanaka will be posted, according to Sankei Sports. RT @sankeisports: イーグルス、田中将大の新ポスティング制度による移籍を容認すると発表しました。— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) December 25, 2013
Rakuten's decision to post Masahiro Tanaka was announced by team president Yozo Tachibana.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) December 25, 2013
Tanaka is one of the biggest talents left on the MLB open market and one of the last large pieces to the offseason puzzle. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound righty recorded a 99-35 record with a 2.30 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over seven seasons in the Japan Pacific League. He's racked up 1,238 strikeouts to just 275 walks.
Last season he dominated hitters to the tune of a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 183 strikeouts to just 32 walks in 212 innings pitched. Those kinds of numbers would leave any MLB general manager drooling.
With Tanaka season officially here, the MLB floodgates will open.
In an effort to bring some order to what will surely be madness, here are our odds for the likely suitors to land Tanaka.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
The Orioles have needed starting pitching for years, somehow making it to the postseason two years ago with a group that included Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta.
They do have two young stars on the way. Kevin Gausman debuted last year and showed signs of greatness. Dylan Bundy made two appearances in 2012, but missed all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
If bidding for Tanaka stays in the $50-60 million range, the Orioles could have a realistic shot. If/when it goes above that, they should just lay low and wait for their homegrown talent to come through.
Toronto Blue Jays
It's no secret the Blue Jays have been after starting pitching. They were linked to Jeff Samardzija in November, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR Radio, though nothing came of those talks.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos traded away a lot of prospects last year, thinking it was Toronto's chance to make a move in the AL East. It didn't work and he could be on the hot seat if things don't work out well in 2014.
With the possible exception of Arizona, no team has had a weirder offseason than the Seattle Mariners. They made a big splash by signing Robinson Cano, but acquired two DH-type players in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison on the same day.
Finding another big bat that doesn't come with significant injury concerns should be the Mariners' top priority right now, but I don't even know if the front office has a plan in place.
The goal just seems to be getting better next year at all costs, which could put Tanaka in play for Seattle. He doesn't exactly fill a need, but if the Mariners have to choose between investing big money in a pitcher or, say, Nelson Cruz, go with the arm.
Odds to sign Tanaka: 15-1
If Masahiro Tanaka had gotten posted one week ago, the Texas Rangers would have ranked right behind the Yankees on this list. They needed another impact starter and had money to spend.
The Rangers also needed a corner outfielder, and found him by dropping $130 million over the next seven years to sign Shin-Soo Choo. That would seem to have exhausted the team's budget heading into 2014.
General manager Jon Daniels was quoted in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 12 as saying the Rangers were "unlikely" to make anymore big moves.
That said, signing Tanaka is not necessary for the Rangers to compete in the AL West. I still think Oakland is the best team in the division, but the gap is so close that Texas could win it by five games in 2014 and it wouldn't be a surprise.
Sometimes a team can get backed into a corner and feel the need to make a panic move. The Rangers have a great front office, led by Daniels, and aren't prone to taking huge long-term risks.
Choo might be the one big exception to that rule, which makes Tanaka even more of a long shot for the Rangers. This team always has depth in the minors to make a trade for whatever they need.
Signing Choo is likely to be the last major move the Rangers make this winter, especially if bidding for Tanaka is going to reach the $100 million range, as some reports are suggesting.
Odds to sign Tanaka: 10/1
Is it possible to call the Cubs, one of the most popular MLB teams playing in one of the biggest media markets in the country, a sleeper team in the Tanaka sweepstakes?
Perhaps sleeper isn't the right term, since there have been reports for months suggesting the team will at least make an offer for Tanaka.
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Dec. 3 that the Cubs "coveted" the 25-year-old.
What puts Tanaka in play for the Cubs — who often are forced into mid-market decision-making because of debt-related restrictions — is that the often-exorbitant posting-bid price isn’t subject to restrictions on player spending that have been in place since the Ricketts family’s highly leveraged purchase in 2009, a source said.
If you are familiar with the Cubs' farm system as it currently stands, you know that starting pitching is not a strength. They have a few intriguing arms, but most of them project best as relievers long term.
Tanaka would give them a starter who could come in right away, slot behind Jeff Samardzija (who might be more inclined to re-sign with another quality starter in the rotation) and escalate the rebuilding process.
We are going to start seeing some of these major position player prospects debut in 2014, like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, so the window to compete in the National League Central will open sooner than later.
However, I caution going all-in on the Cubs during this process because I'm not sure if they are ready to spend the kind of money necessary on Tanaka. Even with him in the rotation, they will still be a bad team in 2014.
The Cubs could look at the current free-agent pitching class next year, which includes Jon Lester, Homer Bailey, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, thinking that might be a better time to spend money on an arm.
Odds to sign Tanaka: 7-1
I have blasted Arizona's offseason to anyone who will listen, whether it is in articles or via Twitter, because the front office doesn't appear to have any sort of plan. General manager Kevin Towers seems to be looking five seconds ahead instead of five months.
However, if there is one thing the Diamondbacks have been building towards, it's making a big splash in the starting pitching department.
Towers told reporters (via MLB.com) at the winter meetings, after acquiring Mark Trumbo in a three-team trade, that the team still wanted to find another starter. He even made a point to say during an appearance on Sirius XM Radio with Jim Bowden that they were "in" on two of the three top arms available, including Tanaka.
If this is what Arizona has been waiting for, it better be prepared to fight. The Diamondbacks clearly view themselves as contenders, and certainly aren't a bad team, but they also don't have the funds teams like the Yankees and Dodgers do.
It would take a massive upset for the Diamondbacks to land Tanaka, though don't be shocked to see them try to go beyond their comfort zone to entice the Japanese star.
Odds to sign Tanaka: 3-1
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 9 that the Los Angeles Dodgers' interest in Tanaka did not consist of a "win-at-all costs mentality."
You'll forgive me if I don't take the Dodgers at their word, especially since they are going to be linked to every major free agent until we have proof their spending spree will stop.
I will say, of all the teams on this list, the Dodgers need Tanaka the least. They already have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation, need to save whatever money they can to re-sign the former, and have good depth behind their top two starting pitchers.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is a solid left-handed starter, and prospect Zach Lee will likely be in the big leagues next season.
That said, finding one more starting pitcher wouldn't be the worst thing for the Dodgers. Tanaka could give them some insurance if Kershaw decides to test the free-agent waters after next season.
Even though the Dodgers don't have an immediate need for Tanaka, he would upgrade their chances to win a World Series, and we know the front office will spend anything to build a winning team.
Odds to sign Tanaka: Even
If ever there was a player the Yankees should bid on, it is Tanaka. He's got more upside than any starting pitcher on the free-agent market, is just 25 years old, and would slot in nicely with a rotation that features CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the top two spots.
The Yankees don't have a farm system they can rely on. They have already spent $316 million to upgrade their roster this offseason, most of it going to three players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran).
If Alex Rodriguez ends up getting suspended for a significant portion of the 2014 season, that would free up more money in the budget (if the Yankees even have one).
This is still an old team that didn't get any younger after signing Carlos Beltran (36), Kuroda (38), Brian Roberts (36) and Matt Thornton (37). A player who's still in his mid-20s makes too much sense for the Yankees not to make a serious push.
Plus, when you are talking about relying on Michael Pineda and David Phelps in the last two rotation spots, disaster seems likely.
Not that this will come as a shock to anyone, but it would be an upset if the Yankees didn't sign Tanaka.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.