Updated: Thursday, 09 January 2014 18:09 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan's Tanaka in US transfer talks with MLB clubs

Star Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is heading to the United States to kick off negotiations with Major League Baseball clubs over an expected high-profile transfer, media reported on Thursday.

Japan's Tanaka in US transfer talks with MLB clubs

Japan's pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throws the ball against Cuba during the fourth inning of their first-round Pool A game in the World Baseball Classic tournament in Fukuoka on March 6, 2013

It will be the 25-year-old's first official contact with US teams looking to sign him, since his team Rakuten Eagles agreed a 30-day window for transfer bids in December.

Among teams expected to take an interest are the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks, Jiji Press and other media said.

The Sports Hochi said Tanaka left Narita airport on Wednesday and is expected to pick a final candidate team as early as January 17.

Immediate confirmation of the reports was not available.

Teams must bid a posting fee capped at $20 million to the Eagles, winners of the Japan Series, simply for the rights to negotiate with the right-hander.

Then they must spend the money to sign the Asian ace by January 24 ahead of February's start of pre-season training for the 2014 season.

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

But thanks to a revamp of the posting system pushed by North American clubs last year and agreed by Japanese teams, the posting fee will not compare to the record sums above $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 pitched for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and 2013 as well as at 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 last month.

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