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Bidding for Japanese ace begins

The Yankees have contacted Masahiro Tanaka's agent, and the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers also are expected to enter the picture.

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 righthander began at 8 a.m. EST yesterday, according to MLB spokesman Michael Teevan. Clubs have until 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 2 weeks ago between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball. Under the old, no-limit system, the Texas Rangers paid more than $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 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, and already have been in contact with Casey Close, whom Tanaka recently designated as his agent, Newsday reported. The Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers are also likely candidates to bid for Tanaka.

Under the rules of the 3-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.

In other baseball news:

Paul Blair, the eight-time Gold Glove centerfielder who helped the Baltimore Orioles win World Series titles in 1966 and 1970, has died. He was 69. Blair died last night at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Blair was with the Orioles from 1964-76. He then played for the Yankees - winning World Series in 1977 and 1978 - and the Cincinnati Reds. In 17 seasons in the majors, he hit .250 with 134 home runs, 620 RBIs and 171 stolen bases. Blair appeared in six World Series, two All-Star games and won Gold Gloves in 1967 and 1969-75.

Sport Stops

* Wimbledon champion Andy Murray lost his comeback match from a 3-month injury layoff in the opening round of the Mubadala Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Murray lost, 7-5, 6-3, to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 72 minutes. Tsonga will meet Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the exhibition event today, and Rafael Nadal will take on Spanish compatriot David Ferrer in the other semi.

* Chisholm (Minn.) High School basketball coach Bob McDonald has reached 1,000 career victories. McDonald, 80, reached the milestone with a 61-55 win over Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in the Hibbing Holiday Tournament. McDonald is in his 53rd and final season coaching the Bluestreaks.

* Perpetual Loyal led fellow super maxi and defending champion Wild Oats XI in what turned into a two-yacht duel in the Australia's Sydney to Hobart race.