Rakuten Golden Eagles will allow Masahiro Tanaka to make the jump to MLB

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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.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.