Where Will Tanaka Land?
Arguably the most talked about free agent of the offseason, 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka has MLB owners drooling. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the specifics of this hype monster, here's a brief recap:
Strikingly similar to Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka features a low 90s fastball, excellent control, and a fierce splitter that he uses frequently and to devastating effect. In Japan during this career with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka averaged under 2 BB/9 IP, and more than 8 K/9IP. Throw in a career ERA of 2.30 and the fact that he has averaged a full 8 innings in each of the last three seasons, and it’s not hard to see why the baseball community is abuzz with rumors on where he’s going to end up.
The new $20 million cap to the posting fee will most certainly result in one of, if not the largest contract for an international player that the MLB has ever seen. But which team will be the one to ink this would-be superstar? Here are my top seven candidates, based on both need and capability (sorry, Athletics—Moneyball won’t help you here).
7. Detroit Tigers
You may be shocked to see the Tigers on this list, but hear me out. They just offloaded Prince Fielder’s massive contract to the Rangers, in theory to clear up money to resign Scherzer and Cabrera in the next couple of years. Then they did something peculiar—they dealt Doug Fister to the Nationals in return for a trio of young talent. While the youngsters they acquired (particularly Robbie Ray, a 22-year old lefty who was a top-10 prospect in Washington) might explain trading Fister, what if the Tigers were also freeing up a spot in the rotation? Going into a season with Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Fister as your starting rotation seems like a winning situation, and it’s not like Fister would have cost an arm and a leg to keep. But Bill, you might ask, how are they going to pay for Tanaka? Well....what if they didn't resign Scherzer next year, and instead capitalized on his Cy Young season by trading him at an all-time high in value? Slim possibility, but food for thought.
6. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have already made their splash this offseason, signing Shin-Soo Choo and trading for Prince Fielder, seemingly answering all of their offensive questions. Their rotation is far less certain. With a projected top four of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez, the Rangers could use an upgrade. The Rangers international scouting has already proven effective in Japan (and Cuba, for that matter), and it is not out of the question for them to take a serious stab at the former Rakuten Golden Eagle. Yu Darvish has worked out particularly well for them, so why can’t Tanaka? Could Darvish even play a recruiting role in bringing Tanaka to the Lone Star State?
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are one of the more intriguing possibilities to sign Tanaka, mainly because, let’s face it—they are far from a threat to make a playoff run in 2014. If you’re a Cubs fan, my sympathy to you, but the writing is pretty much on the wall when they share the division with St. Louis, Cincinnati, and now the emerging Pittsburgh club. What makes the Cubs a serious threat to sign Tanaka is that they owe virtually no one money in the next couple years. So it essentially comes down to whether or not they are willing to pay Tanaka, who will instantly become the organization’s top starter, for a couple of years while they build around him. They have a deep farm system and fairly deep pockets, both of which are key to rebuilding a franchise, and Tanaka could be the block around which they build for the future.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers don’t really have a need for Tanaka, as they tossed an MLB best 3.13 starter ERA last year. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu in a three-game series—that’s scary stuff. However, Kershaw becomes a free agent next season and he will likely command the largest contract ever for a starting pitcher. The pockets in Los Angeles are as deep as any team in the majors, but would it be that surprising if they sign Tanaka and let Kershaw walk? Tanaka’s deal is going to be monstrous, but it won't come close to the record setting contract that the Nightmare of the National League is going to receive. Copyright on that nickname for Kershaw, by the way. Tell your friends.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
After dealing away Tyler Skaggs in the deal that brought them Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks are hurting for stud pitching. Currently they have Pat Corbin…and that’s pretty much it. Plenty of middling talent with Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Randall Delgado and Trevor Cahill, all of whom can be brilliant or bogus depending on whether or not the Gatorade tastes funny during warmups. The D’backs have already put out feelers on Jeff Samardzija and David Price, which means that they are looking for pitching. On January 3rd, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Diamondbacks organization came right out and said that Tanaka is their top priority, so don’t sleep on the snakes.
2. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners mean business. After paying most countries’ GDP for Robinson Cano, it is clear that the Mariners mean to strike now. With the exception of king Felix and Cano, the Mariners aren’t tied up with many big contracts, which means the money is there. They clearly mean to capitalize on those two superstars while they are still in their prime, and adding Tanaka would give them a serious leg up in the ever-contested AL West. Their second starter behind Hernandez is Tanaka’s former Rakuten teammate, Hisashi Iwakuma, which adds a comfort factor to the whole deal which should not be taken lightly. You could certainly make an argument that the Mariners are the favorite to sign Tanaka, as they have it all— the need, the environment, the former teammate, and the dough.
1. New York Yankees
The Yankees should be seen as the top contender for Tanaka for one reason—desperation. The best starter in pinstripes last year was without a doubt Hiroki Kuroda. CC Sabathia was a shadow of his former self with an ugly 4.78 ERA, and after him you’ve got a bunch of question marks. Nova looked like a solid option at the end of last year, but he is certainly no lock to win even 12 games. Piñeda may or may not be healthy enough to start the season, but whether or not he’ll return to his rookie year form is anyone's guess.
The Yankees need, and I mean really need to sign a starter this offseason, but have been reticent to exceed the $189 million luxury tax. You will not see a deal struck before they find out whether they have to pay A-Rod $25 million for the 2014 season. Should they not, they'll take a real run at Tanaka. The Yankees don't really need to shy away from the luxury tax as their profit margins are comfortably in the black, and they have a huge need for starting pitching. Or perhaps the wounds left by Kei Igawa are too deep…alas, only time will tell.
Think I’m right? Think I’m wrong? I want to hear it either way - let me know in the comments or hit me up on twitter @Roto_Dubs.