Masahiro Tanaka, White Sox meet

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The Masahiro Tanaka free-agency tour has hit the United States, as the Japanese ace and his agent began meeting with teams on Thursday.

Tanaka and agent Casey Close have until a deadline of 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 24 to have a contract and physical completed with a team.

The right-hander went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the Japanese League last season and is considered by many to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. The major league team that signs Tanaka, 25, will owe a $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his team in Japan.

One official estimated that more than one-third of major league teams are interested in Tanaka, who likely will garner a contract in the six-year, $100 million range. Among the interested teams are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros.

Tanaka met with White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams, general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura  in the Los Angeles area on Thursday.

"The meeting was exploratory in nature," Hahn said. "It was an opportunity for us to sit down with Masahiro and discuss how he potentially fits our vision for the Chicago White Sox for the next several seasons."

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Wednesday that Tanaka is trying to educate himself about what it would be like to play in each of the cities.

"I talked to Casey as soon as they announced he was going to be posted and as soon as they announced Casey would represent him," Colletti said. "Obviously, Casey and I go back quite a while. They're in a feeling-out process. They're trying to learn about different cities, different teams, different markets, how teams are constructed going forward.

"You know, it's a big decision for the player, too, so we've had those types of conversations and we'll continue to see where it goes."

Although the Dodgers have a ton of money, National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who is also represented by Close, is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2014 season.

Since the beginning of the offseason, sources have told ESPNNewYork.com that the Yankees planned on making a strong push for Tanaka, realizing they need a young starter to team with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda at the top of the rotation. After those two, Ivan Nova is slated to be the No. 3 starter, and the four and five spots are unsettled. Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are expected to compete for the fifth spot.

If the Yankees fail to sign Tanaka, it is unclear what they would do about another starter because they are not high on any of the other top free-agent starters at their current asking prices. Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are still unsigned. It could reopen the possibility of trading outfielder Brett Gardner to fill a need.

Just like with Robinson Cano, the Mariners may prove to be the Yankees' strongest competition for Tanaka. With Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the rotation, the Mariners likely need more starting pitching to compete in the AL West, and Iwakuma and Tanaka were teammates with Rakuten.

Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com and Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com contributed to this report.

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