Rakuten Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii confirmed Wednesday that his team has been talking with 32-year-old free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka about a return to the Pacific League club, Kyodo News (Japanese) reported.
Ishii, who will also manage the club based in the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai, said that the sides had not arrived at precise figures for discussion.
“We don’t know what he will decide, but we are communicating with him and whatever way he wants to go, we support that,” Ishii told Japanese media.
Tanaka turned pro with the Eagles out of high school. He won 28-straight regular season decisions from 2012 through the end of the 2013 season. After Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish had each attracted $50-million posting of fees, Tanaka was poised to earn the Eagles a windfall of perhaps twice that much until MLB backed out of the posting agreement and capped the Eagles’ fee at $20 million.
Tanaka, stung by that, suggested he contribute to the team financially for which he was rebuked by MLB for a potential violation of the posting agreement terms. Since he moved to the New York Yankees in 2014, he has trained each winter at the Eagles’ facility.
When the pandemic shut down MLB’s training camps last March, Tanaka remained in Florida with his family, but returned abruptly to Japan, suggesting only that the move was out of concern for his family’s safety — both from the virus and other issues.
With spring training due to start in Japan’ on Feb. 1, a concrete offer from the Eagles would dramatically change the dynamic of Tanaka’s negotiations with prospective MLB suitors.
Should Tanaka return to Sendai, he will be in store for some of the added pressure that dogged the Eagles in 2011, after much of the region was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left over 15,000 dead and triggered a nuclear disaster.
The story was first reported by Sankei Sports, which said that team president Yozo Tachibana had been involved.