Some breaking baseball news this Christmas Eve.
Via the translating skills of the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez, Sponichi in Japan is reporting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles have decided to go through with posting right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, allowing him to depart for Major League Baseball.
Rakuten had second thoughts about allowing Tanaka to leave after a new set of posting system rules were instituted this offseason that put a $20 million cap on posting fees. But the 25-year-old Tanaka had already stated a strong desire to jump to baseball’s highest (and richest) level of competition and Rakuten’s higher-ups have ultimately decided not to block his path. Tanaka could have left without permission after the 2015 season, so the clock was ticking anyway.
Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183/32 K/BB ratio in 212 innings (27 starts) this past summer in Nippon Professional Baseball, is expected to command a major league contract worth more than $100 million through the new posting system — which gives much more freedom and opportunity to Japanese players.
To earn the right to bid on Tanaka, a big league team must only commit a totally-refundable $20 million posting fee. There will then be a bidding war, and some of the wealthiest organizations in the sport are expected to get involved. The clubs that lose out on him will have their $20 million fee returned in full.
For reference, the Rangers paid a $51.7 million posting fee in December 2011 for the right to negotiate exclusively with Yu Darvish and then inked the right-hander to a six-year, $56 million major league deal.
UPDATE (1:20 a.m.): Rakuten Eagles president Yozo Tachibana confirmed Tanaka will be made available.
We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.
It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.
He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four. He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.
He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.
Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.
Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.
This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.