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Sweepstakes for Japanese Ace Tanaka Starts

New York — The bidding for Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has begun.

All 30 major league teams were notified that the 30-day period to sign the star 25-year-old right-hander began at 8 a.m. EST Thursday, according to MLB spokesman Michael Teevan. Clubs have until 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 to attempt to reach an agreement with the ace.

If Tanaka and a major league team come to terms, that franchise is required to pay his Japanese club, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee, now capped at $20 million under a deal reached two weeks ago between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball.

Under the old, no-limit system, the Texas Rangers paid over $50 million for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish before the 2012 season.

Tanaka will be represented by Excel Sports Management during the process. Other Excel Sports clients include Dodgers two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Rakuten rejected the new posting system, but was outvoted in balloting by Japan’s 12 teams. The Japan Series champion then said it was going to retain Tanaka, whose rights it holds for two more seasons.

Eagles President Yozo Tachibana, however, changed course Wednesday, saying that Tanaka deserved a chance to play in the majors. Tachibana cited Tanaka’s 24-0 regular-season record with a 1.27 ERA and his “outstanding contribution to the team” over seven seasons as reasons for choosing to post the player.

A day after throwing a complete game in a Game 6 loss in the Japan Series, Tanaka saved the clincher, bringing the first league championship to the team based in Sendai, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Several major league teams argued that under the system established in 1998, only the richest franchises could afford to bid on the right to sign star Japanese players still under club control. The new system levels the process — and also means the player could get a contract around $100 million.

The New York Yankees are among several teams in need of top-line starting pitching.

Under the rules of the three-year agreement, starting with the day after a player is posted and continuing for 30 days, any team willing to pay the fee may attempt to sign the player. A club pays the posting fee only if it signs the player, and the fee is then submitted in installments, with the timing dependent on the amount.

A player who is not signed may not be posted again until the following Nov. 1.

During the previous agreement, Boston obtained Daisake Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions before the 2007 season for $51,111,111.11 and agreed to a $52 million, six-year contract. Texas got Darvish from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before the 2012 season for $51,703,411 and gave him a $56 million, six-year deal. Darvish finished second in this year’s AL Cy Young Award voting.