On Boxing Day, the pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka finally begins. The 25-year-old Japanese star has officially been posted by his club team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
So for the new capped fee of $20 million, any one of the 30 Major League teams can get in on the bidding and getting a deal done by 5pm on January 24.
Tanaka was a spectacular 24-0 this season with a miniscule 1.27 ERA. He is the same age Yu Darvish was when he was posted two years ago and, like Darvish, wants the challenge of pitching in the Majors.
The Blue Jays were in on the chase for Darvish, but to what extent we will never really know. There were rumblings at the time that the Blue Jays barely lost out to Texas and their winning bid of $51.7 million. But Alex Anthopoulos and the organization would never confirm or deny that and in the end, it was felt the Rangers were actually bidding against themselves just to be sure they got Darvish.
Texas signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal but if certain conditions are met, the sixth year turns into a player option.
So far it's been a good investment by Texas. Darvish is 29-18 over two seasons with 401 innings, 498 strikeouts and 169 walks. He was added the American League All-Star roster his first year, and only missed last year's mid-summer classic due to an injury.
Most scouts believe Darvish to be a better pitcher than Tanaka, who projects by many to be a number 2 or 3 starter, rather than a staff ace.
When Tanaka won the Sawamura Award as top pitcher in Japan in 2011, over Darvish, he conceded that although he had slightly better numbers than Darvish in a couple of categories, he said "as a pitcher, I'm nowhere near his calibre".
The Blue Jays' self-imposed five-year limit on contracts is one thing working against them, although Anthopoulos conceded a couple of weeks ago that the Jays might go to six years for the right player.
The biggest thing going against the Jays is the desperation of some of those big-name teams that figure to be in on the bidding and the marquee presence of others.
The Yankees pitching staff needs an infussion of youth and talent. The Dodgers haven't won a World Series since 1988 and Texas has never won one. Boston is in that year-by-year battle for bragging rights and now that they've won three World Series titles this century to the Yankees two, they aren't going to let up now.
The Blue Jays may make an offer just to say they did, but I'd bet on Texas or the Yankees to be Tanaka's ultimate landing spot.
A couple of trivia points on Darvish. The first Major League hit he surrendered was to his countryman Ichiro Suzuki and the first home run he surrendered was to Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays on April 30, 2012. Darvish still won that game though, 4-1.
It was on December 26 of 1919 when the most infamous deal in Red Sox history went down. It was the day Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees.
This is the story of another player who went by the nickname "Babe". Werner Birrer was a reliever and occassional spot starter for parts of three seasons in the 1950's with the Tigers, Orioles and Dodgers. He's better known for his years pitching in the International League, in Buffalo, the city where he was born. He ultimately made it into the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and was a valued member of the community as a teacher and a coach. Babe Birrer passed away back in November at age 85. He had one day in his career where it all came together and earned him the sobriquet "Babe".
On July 19 of 1955, Birrer came on in relief in the sixth inning to try and protect a 5-4 Tigers lead over Baltimore. Not only did he pitch four shutout innings of relief to earn his second of four career saves, Birrer slugged a pair of three-run homers to propel the Tigers to a 12-4 victory over the 0's. What was so special about that? Well, those were the only two home runs and only six runs batted inn of Birrer's entire career. As far as anyone knows, he is the only Major League player in history to cram all of his home runs and RBI production into just one game. For that one day, that one game, Werner Birrer was called "Babe" by his teammates for the rest of his career.
Oddly enough, the two relievers who surrendered those home runs to Birrer, George Zuverink and Art Shallock, are both still alive and amongst the 100 oldest surviving Major Leaguers.
Shallock is 89 and 245 days, Zuverink 89 and 128 days. Just a little known page in the book of Tigers history.