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ANALYSIS

Masahiro Tanaka still in limbo

December 17, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of Rakuten Eagles speaks before the press after meeting with his team's president in Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan on Tuesday.
Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of Rakuten Eagles speaks before… (Jiji Press/ AFP / Getty Images…)

Ugh ... When will this end?

After a new posting system was officially implemented by Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, prized right-hander Masahiro Tanaka met Tuesday morning with the president of his team.

The anticipated resolution of the question of where Tanaka would play next season wasn’t reached, according to multiple Japanese news reports.

Tanaka told Rakuten President Yozo Tachibana he wants to pitch in the major leagues next season. Tachibana asked him to remain with the Golden Eagles, who are the defending NPB champion.

They are to meet again on the matter, perhaps next time with Rakuten owner Hiroshi Mikitani also there, reports said.

The Golden Eagles are under no obligation to sell Tanaka to a major league team. Their reluctance to do so is a result of the newly implemented $20-million cap on how much they can receive in exchange for him.

But in the coming days, Rakuten will undoubtedly face increased public pressure in Japan to let Tanaka fulfill his American Dream.

If it doesn’t make sense that baseball fans in Japan would want Tanaka pitching in games overseas that they are unlikely to watch, think of it this way: The situation is similar how American soccer fans view a promising domestic player in Major League Soccer.

Yes, it’s kind of neat that soccer fans in the Los Angeles area can watch Landon Donovan play for the Galaxy almost every other weekend at the Home Depot Center. But with the exception of die-hard Galaxy fans -- however many there are -- most American observers would prefer for Donovan to be testing himself against the best in the world somewhere in Europe. (In Donovan’s case, this is a non-issue as he appears to have no interest playing overseas.)

What could ultimately decide Tanaka’s fate is how effective Rakuten is in spinning the story in Japan.

At the moment, the prevailing narrative in Japan would probably sound something like this: Tanaka fulfilled his obligation to the Eagles by delivering them a championship; the Eagles, in turn, crushed his dream.

That won’t sit well with people.

If the Golden Eagles hold on to Tanaka, they will have to convince the public that they are standing up for Japanese baseball after NPB officials were bullied by MLB into accepting a terrible deal.

That might be too nuanced a story to gain any traction.

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