Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to move to the majors next season after his Japanese team Rakuten Eagles announced Wednesday it was prepared to let him leave, reversing its earlier rejection.
Rakuten Eagles president Yozo Tachibana told a news conference that the team has decided to release him through the posting system, paving the way for his departure. Tachibana said Tanaka's outstanding performance over the past seven years, including this season, meant he deserved to be allowed to move to the U.S.
Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-hander, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Eagles during the regular season and sought a move to the majors. But he has two years remaining on his contract and Rakuten was under no obligation to release him.
"I'm grateful to the team for allowing me to try. Now I've made a first step," he said. "I hope I would receive offers from as many teams as possible so I have a wider option."
The New York Yankees are considered the leading candidates to sign Tanaka, though the capping of the posting fee at $20 million meant many other teams could also afford to make offers.
The Eagles had rejected the new posting system but it was passed by a vote of Japan's professional teams. Following that decision, Rakuten had initially said they want to retain Tanaka, before Wednesday's change of heart.
Tachibana said the team took into consideration Tanaka's "outstanding contribution to the team" since he joined the Eagles seven years ago. Tanaka's perfect 24-0 record set a new mark in the history of Japanese professional baseball and brought a first league championship to the team based in Sendai, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
For 30 days from the time a player is posted, any MLB team can attempt to sign the player. It pays the posting fee only if it signs the player. Under the new rules, a Japanese club may make players available between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1. A player who is not signed may not be posted again until the following Nov. 1.
Tachibana, the Rakuten president, said his team is happy to retain Tanaka if he does not reach an agreement with an MLB team.
The new posting system was negotiated after some MLB teams objected that only the richest clubs could afford to bid on top Japanese players.
Under the previous agreement, which began in 1998 and ran through last off-season, there was no cap on bidding and only the highest bidder could negotiate with the player.
Boston obtained pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions before the 2007 season for $51,111,111.11, and agreed to a $52 million, six-year contract. Texas got pitcher Yu Darvish from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before the 2012 season for $51,703,411 and gave him a $56 million, six-year deal.