NEW YORK -- The Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes is officially underway, and the Yankees are preparing to make their pitch to the 25-year-old right-hander, who represents their top priority at this point of the offseason.
CBS Sports reported on Thursday that Tanaka has touched down in Los Angeles, and with agent Casey Close orchestrating the visit, the hurler is expected to meet with as many as a dozen teams in the next two days.
The Yanks are believed to be in that group, but they will face a healthy amount of competition. The Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox and D-backs have all been reported to be chief contenders for Tanaka, who posted an eye-popping 24-0 regular-season record with a 1.27 ERA last year for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League.
Tanaka is expected to command a contract in excess of $100 million, and any team signing him would also be required to pay a $20 million posting fee to Rakuten. Tanaka is permitted to negotiate with Major League clubs until 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 24.
The CBS Sports report said that Tanaka is scheduled to be seen by a doctor in the Los Angeles area to provide a medical update to all interested clubs. There have been concerns about Tanaka's workload in Japan; in seven years with Rakuten, Tanaka has thrown more than 1,300 innings, with more than 600 of those coming in the last three seasons.
The Yankees currently identify Tanaka as their No. 1 target in an offseason that has already seen them land big-ticket free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. They also re-signed right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and would like to upgrade a starting rotation that projects to have CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Ivan Nova in the first three slots.
The back end of New York's rotation is very much unsettled, with the final two spots currently up for grabs from a group that includes Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren. The Yanks have seemed to be nonplussed by a crop of free-agent starters that is headlined by Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo.
General manager Brian Cashman has said that the club could bring a selection of non-roster invitees to camp in order to fill out the staff, pointing to the success that they had in 2011 by taking a low-risk flyer on veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in Spring Training.
Of course, if the Yankees are able to sign Tanaka, there would be less urgency to pursue those types of lottery ticket arms. Signing Tanaka also would virtually ensure that the Yanks plan to exceed the $189 million payroll figure for the 2014 season, ending speculation that the club could avoid paying luxury tax for the first time since the system was implemented in 2003.