Tanaka coming home

2-year, $17 million

Masahiro Tanaka will return to the Rakuten Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League for the 2021 season on a two-year deal worth a reported 900 million ($8.6 million) Kyodo News (Japanese) reported after the club announced the signing.

Because Japanese contracts are not made public, their value is subject to speculation. This month, Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano reportedly signed for 800 million after he declined offers to sign with an MLB club via the posting system. That figure is being touted as a record for Japanese pro ball, but it’s not verifiable.

In a tweet that included a picture of him looking over the Eagles’ home ballpark while wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned on the back with “New York,” Tanaka said:

“At this time, I’ve accepted a contract from the Rakuten Eagles. I’d like to let you know my feelings and what led to this decision to play in Japan at the press conference we have planned.”

–Masahiro Tanaka

Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii confirmed Tuesday according to Kyodo News (Japanese) that talks have been proceeding but that nothing official has been offered. However, a Sponichi Annex story on Wednesday reported the team has already offered Tanaka a one-year contract, and that further details, including additional years, are now being hammered out.

Speaking to media this week, Ishii told reporters that the No. 18, typically associated with being an ace pitcher in Japan was Tanaka’s right.

“The Eagles’ No. 18 belongs to no one else but Tanaka,” Ishii said.

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.

Read Kyodo News’ English story.

With spring training due to start in Japan’ on Monday, Feb. 1, Ishii said according to the Kyodo story that Tanaka would likely arrive in camp prior to the start of the first preseason game on Feb. 23

Tanaka 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 in excess of 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.

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