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MLB News: Starting pitching dominoes to start falling as Tanaka deadline nears

The January free agent freeze should end by the end of the week (at the latest) because the deadline for Tanaka to sign is this Friday.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka
Koji Watanabe

If you're wondering when the free agent starting pitchers remaining on the free agent market will start to sign, I'm reasonably sure it will be over the weekend, or early next week at the latest. Why am I so certain? Because Friday is the deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to choose his team.

The new posting system allows the player to negotiate with each team that meets the posting fee set by his NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) club. The maximum posting fee under the new system is $20M, so given Tanaka's talents, his old club chose to post him for $20M. In Tanaka's case, that essentially makes him a free agent, as all 30 clubs would see him as worth at least the posting fee.

The clubs that seem to be most interested (and with the wherewithal to offer him a $100M contract plus the $20M posting fee) are mostly big-market clubs:

Over the weekend, Japanese media outlet Nikkan Sports reported that the Yankees, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, White Sox and Cubs have all made offers to Tanaka, the 25-year-old righty who went 24-0 last year. The report said that most of those were for more than $100 million over six years.

There has been a remarkable absence of leaks in the Tanaka negotiations. We're now four days from the deadline (and he'll probably sign a couple days early in case there's any contract complications), and there's been no front-runner mentioned, or even front-runners. The only information out there is that five teams have made offers, and that most of the offers have exceeded $100M over six years.

That the Yankees and Dodgers made offers shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The Dodgers in recent years have been spending money like it's going out of style (thanks largely to a massive new TV contract) and the Yankees, while they haven't been spending a lot lately, still will have either the highest or second-highest payroll in baseball by the time the season begins. The Cubs and White Sox, clubs that on paper aren't poised to compete, are somewhat of a surprise, though they are in a big media market, and perhaps Tanaka wants that. I'm not sure what to make of the Arizona bid.

But because of the Tanaka negotiations, the three main starting pitchers on the market are still unsigned. I think the consensus is that Tanaka is better than Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Matt Garza, both because of his ability and because of his age (25). A club signing Tanaka would also not have to give up a draft pick (though you could say the same for Garza).

Assuming that the Indians haven't submitted a offer to Tanaka (yeah, I'm going out on a limb), the best-case scenario is that Tanaka ends up in the National League. Adding Tanaka to a pitching staff that already has Chris Sale and Jose Quintana would could make them a contender in the AL in the next couple of years, if not in 2014 if several other things break right. I'm pretty sure you understand why you don't want Tanaka going to the Yankees.

What comes after Tanaka signs is more relevant to the Indians. They've signed some starting pitchers to minor-league contracts (namely Shaun Marcum) but they still need an upgrade in the rotation. They would not give up their first round pick if they signed either Garza or Jimenez (though by bringing back Jimenez they would forgo a sandwich pick that's coming to them). But that would assume the Indians' payroll would approach $100M, something that we haven't seen since the beginning of the century.

The good news is that we should start getting some answers shortly.