- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Masahiro Tanaka’s locker in the Rakuten clubhouse was close to the lockers of Casey McGehee and Andruw Jones, and on Nov. 3, 2013, the day of Game 7 of the Japan Series, McGehee and Jones watched Tanaka. They were stunned by what they saw.
The day before, in Game 6, Tanaka had thrown a staggering 160 pitches in a complete-game loss, a workload that would reduce almost all pitchers to the role of spectator for the season finale. But in the hours before Game 7, Tanaka’s body language screamed to Jones and McGehee: He intended to pitch. They couldn’t believe it.
Tanaka had been Rakuten’s leader through a regular season in which he went 24-0, but McGehee, Jones and the others in the clubhouse understood how much he had at stake in the months ahead in money and stature, given the presumption that he would sign with a major league team.
So McGehee and Jones asked Tanaka a question through an interpreter: Are you sure you’re going to pitch?
"If we’re winning," Tanaka replied, "I’m pitching."
His decision to pitch that day was as unique as his current negotiations, which will conclude sometime in the next 72 hours. Tanaka is the first star from Japan marketed under the rules negotiated last month, with the $20 million ceiling for the posting fee and a system designed to give players from Japan more freedom. The timing of the Tanaka auction is idiosyncratic, with a monthlong sprint for an elite pitching talent in the dead of winter, when most teams have usually finished their offseason work. A number of teams and free-agent players are waiting for Tanaka to pick a team so the market -- frozen in place -- can finally move again.
Negotiations unlike any before
Tanaka’s talent and age are what is most unusual about this bidding.