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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Market for Tanaka is justifiably wide open

Japanese ace deserves to stand as the crown jewel among free-agent starters

Market for Tanaka is justifiably wide open

Masahiro Tanaka appears to be taking over the North American pitching market.

Tanaka has landed on American soil to meet personally with at least some of his many suitors. The number of Major League teams reportedly seeking his services may soon exceed the number of teams that are not pursuing him.

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This is what happens when a man goes 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, no matter where he does it. And when the man is healthy. And when the man is just 25 years old.

There is also the matter of the new agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball that set a maximum posting fee of $20 million. The Texas Rangers had to pay $51.7 million just to win negotiating rights with Yu Darvish. Prior to the new posting agreement, it was speculated that the fee for Tanaka would easily break that record.

Now, Tanaka's previous employers, the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League, will get $20 million as the posting fee. Tanaka and his potential new employer have until Jan. 24, 30 days from when he was posted, to reach agreement on a contract.

It increasingly appears that his contract will be for a glorious amount of money. With a rather thin crop of free-agent starting pitchers available this offseason, Tanaka has taken a position that can be safely described as front and center. Whether or not he is a sure thing, he is being treated like the surest thing on the market.

This is good for him. It will also, presumably, be good for the team that eventually wins the bidding battle and signs him. In the meantime, it is good for baseball, the sport and the business. The Tanaka derby has breathed new life into the Hot Stove.

Which team will eventually emerge with this winter's hottest pitching property, with its rotation in considerably better shape than it was in the pre-Tanaka era?

You look typically at teams with both money to spend and a willingness to spend that money. But in this case, Tanaka's appeal is such that we may have to do more than round up the usual suspects.

The Yankees come to mind immediately, since they obviously have the resources and are in serious need of a rotation upgrade. The Angels are in the same general neighborhood, in terms of both the ability to pay and the need. The Dodgers are not lacking in pitching, but under new ownership they have re-established themselves as a major-market franchise with the ability and willingness to make truly major acquisitions.

Both Chicago clubs are reported to be in the hunt. The Cubs don't profile as a 2014 contender at this point in their rebuilding process, but they have the money and a Tanaka doesn't become available all that often.

The White Sox would like to bounce back in a hurry from an unexpectedly sub-standard 2013. They already made one major international signing with Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu. Getting two impact performers in one offseason could help them up the American League Central ladder in a hurry.

The D-backs could use a major acquisition to keep pace in the increasingly competitive National League West, in which three other clubs have made improvements for this year, and the Dodgers are already loaded with talent.

The Mariners have displayed a willingness to spend major money in an attempt to get much better immediately. (Witness the Robinson Cano deal.) Plus, Seattle has a nice precedent for launching a Japanese star into North American stardom in the case of Ichiro Suzuki.

There will be more. There are all sorts of concerns for Tanaka to consider as he meets representatives of his potential employers. There are competitive considerations. There are cultural bridges to be crossed. This is a life-changing arrangement for Mr. Tanaka. The course of his professional life will depend on his decision.

And there is always the matter of money. Otherwise reasonable people are now estimating that Tanaka's first Major League deal could exceed $100 million and could be for a period of more than five years.

This is what can happen in contemporary baseball when a man moves to the head of the free-agent pitching class. At this moment, Tanaka is in a truly enviable position. He represents the free-agent supply of star-potential starting pitchers. There is so much demand, and there is only one Masahiro Tanaka.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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