Here's something that's mostly gone under the radar in the middle of the playoffs. Major League Baseball and Japan are close to finalizing an agreement that would change how Japanese players are posted to MLB, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The new deal would change the current agreement, in which a player either reaches an agreement with the highest bidder or stays in Japan. Currently, the highest bidding team gets 30 days to work out a contract with the player after they are awarded the bid. If no deal is met, the fee goes away and the player heads back to Japan. It's left Japanese players with poor leverage, but it's allowed teams like Texas to make huge splashes up front in exchange for what is now a very affordable annual contract for Yu Darvish.
According to Sherman, it seems likely that the changes will be made by November 1st, which in turn affects incoming Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be a hot commodity this offseason. Tanaka is just 24, and while he isn't the strikeout pitcher Yu Darvish is, he posted a 1.27 ERA this season over 29 starts. Tanaka went 26-0, if you're into that, which usually doesn't hold a whole lot of weight other than the fact that Tanaka averaged almost 8 innings a start.
Like Hisashi Iwakuma, Tanaka has a phenomenal splitter, but he also has good velocity on his heater, reaching into the mid 90s with regularity. Similar to many Japanese pitchers, he also has phenomenal command, and his 2013 1.4 BB/9 was actually his highest over the past three seasons.
Obviously, there's going to be a ton of bidders for Tanaka's services. The Cubs are the latest team to get a bunch of press over it, and the Yankees have been the most heavily connected for a long time. The Dodgers are a possible candidate, given their bottomless pockets. The Rangers and Red Sox are also getting a lot of buzz, in part due to their previous connections with the posting system. The Mariners haven't been mentioned nearly as much, but given their history with Japanese players and their eternal connection thanks to ownership and the large Japanese fanbase, they're going to be associated with Tanaka in some way until he signs.
Normally, every team would submit a blind bid for Tanaka's services, and the winner would almost certainly get him. But things are about to get really interesting if an agreement is reached before Tanaka is posted. Sherman says that one of the terms of the new agreement could be more decision-making power from the player.
It is possible, as a way to give the player more power to chose his destination, he might get to pick a singular team from, say, the top two or three bidders.
Putting power back in the hands of the player could be a total gamechanger, and the amount of the bid could matter quite a bit less. If New York splashes in for $60 million and Chicago is second with $52 million, Tanaka could possibly choose to go with Chicago because he prefers to play there, or believes they can offer him more money, since Tanaka himself sees zero of the posting fee money.
That's where the Mariners come into play. It's always seemed unlikely that the Mariners would splash as big as the Yankees for Tanaka, especially because the posting fee doesn't currently count against the payroll (although that could possibly change in the new agreement as well). The Yankees are up against the luxury tax threshold, but have plenty of cash to spend that won't go towards a luxury tax bill, and that's what makes Tanaka so enticing to them.
Tanaka isn't going to be cheap, but he might be worth the investment. Think of Hisashi Iwakuma. Now make him 8 years younger, and add 5 mph to his fastball. Make his splitter even better. Take away the history of injuries. Give him even better command, and make him miss even more bats. Now you've got Masahiro Tanaka, and that's why it's going to be madness trying to acquire his services.
There's going to be a ton of suitors, but the barriers to the Mariners entering that fray are now greatly reduced. It seems highly unlikely that they'd be able to outbid at least one team for Tanaka, but it's at least somewhat feasible that they could place themselves in the top three. They'd still have some odds against them luring Tanaka to Seattle, but Seattle's relationship with Japan could certainly be a factor.
Here's the biggest possible plus for Seattle: Hisashi Iwakuma and Tanaka were teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007-2011. Iwakuma was already a member of Rakuten's rotation when Tanaka joined at age 17, and the two stayed together until Iwakuma left for Seattle.
Of course, New York has plenty of connections of their own with Ichiro and Hiroki Kuroda, and even though Kuroda is a free agent who may or may not leave, the Mariners can't compete with the Yankees readiness to compete and global reputation. We have no idea what matters to Tanaka most, and the Mariners are a long shot at best to even be involved in the bidding.
None of this matters if the agreement isn't in place before the bidding begins, but the ramifications for future Japanese players could be fascinating. Putting some choice in the player's hands is probably the fair thing to do, and it opens up some doors for some unassuming candidates, like Seattle.