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Bidding battle begins for Japan's Tanaka

NEW YORK -- A 30-day window for Major League Baseball clubs to make offers to Masahiro Tanaka, star pitcher for the Japan Series champion Rakuten Eagles, began Thursday with several expected bidders.

Teams must bid a posting fee capped at US$20 million to the Eagles simply for the rights to negotiate with the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander, then spend the money to sign the Asian ace by Jan. 24 ahead of February's start of pre-season training for the 2014 season.

Only the team that eventually signs Tanaka, if any, would forfeit the US$20 million.

But thanks to a revamp of the posting system pushed by North American clubs this year and agreed upon by Japanese teams, the posting fee will not compare to the record sums above US$51 million obtained by Japanese clubs for the negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish in past years.

Tanaka went 24-0 for the Eagles this season with a 1.27 earned-run average. In 212 innings, he struck out 183 batters and walked only 32.

Tanaka, who has pitched for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and 2013 as well as the 2008 Olympics, is 99-35 with a 2.30 earned-run average in seven Japan League campaigns.

The two-time Sawamura Award winner as Japan's top pitcher had expressed a desire to test his skills in North America this coming season but Rakuten had been reluctant to allow the move until announcing his availability on Wednesday.

The New York Yankees were expected to be among the most ardent and biggest-spending suitors of Tanaka, hoping to bolster a rotation that already includes C.C. Sabathia and Japan's Hiroki Kuroda.

Tanaka would have the power to take any offer regardless of money so he could snub the best salary offer if he felt he would be a more comfortable fit for another team or that another club had a better chance of capturing the World Series championship.

In 2006, Matsuzaka signed a six-year deal with the Boston Red Sox worth US$52 million after the team paid a posting fee of US$51.1 million to the Seibu Lions for the rights to negotiate with him.

Darvish joined the Texas Rangers last year after the club spent a record US$51.7 million posting fee and then paid Darvish a six-year deal worth US$60 million.

Tanaka and Darvish are said to be friends and workout partners, which could give the Rangers an inside track.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks are also among those reportedly willing to spend big in order to land Tanaka.

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