Masahiro Tanaka: The Big If


You may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Why are major league teams salivating over Masahiro Tanaka? Why is one Japanese team frothing at the mouth? Why so much speculation, so many headlines, all the trans-Pacific negotiations over the posting system? If he goes, and it's still a big naraba, what will he go for?

Is Ma-Kun, as he is known in Japan, really worth it? The short answer is yes.

Imagine a charismatic 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander who just turned 25 and finished the regular season with a record of 24-0 and an ERA of 1.27. Actually, you don't have to imagine it because that is what Tanaka did before leading the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to the first Japan Series championship in their nine-year history.

His control has been compared to that of Greg Maddux, his fastball to that of Roger Clemens and his split-finger to that of Koji Uehara. As for his stamina, try Grover Cleveland Alexander.

He not only won his second Eiji Sawamura Award as Japan's best pitcher but also the Pacific League MVP with all 233 first-place votes -- the first unanimous selection since 1965. In seven seasons with the Eagles, his ERA is 2.30 and his WHIP is 1.108.

When he saved the Eagles' Game 7 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series -- a day after throwing 160 pitches in his only 2013 loss -- he lifted up not only the 25,249 faithful in Sendai's Kleenex Stadium but the entire Tohoku region that had been devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Eagles teammate Casey McGehee calls him a "friggin' rock star," and, in fact, Ma-Kun is married to Japanese pop star Mai Satoda. As for his own taste in music, he likes to enter games to a tune by the Funky Monkey Babys: " Ato Hitotsu" ("After One").

If a team needs a No. 1 or No. 2 starter for its rotation, Tanaka might be just the guy. His peer and countryman Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers just finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

And if a club is looking for a way to increase revenue, Tanaka offers all sorts of branding and marketing opportunities, not to mention a boost in local hospitality revenue as a result of the legion of Japanese media members who will be following him.

We're talking about someone who helped draw more than 200,000 people to the parade celebrating the Eagles' championship at the end of November.

Under the old math, it cost the Rangers a $51.7 million posting fee to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and then a six-year, $60 million contract to land Darvish after the 2011 season. But the posting system then in effect heavily favored large-market MLB clubs capable of throwing around money that would not count against the luxury tax while at the same time limiting the negotiation leverage for the players, who could sign only with the team that won the bid.

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