Masahiro Tanaka on Christmas Eve, giving interested teams an early Christmas present.
Tanaka, 25, has been the best pitcher in Japan for the last several years. In 2013, he went 24-0 (I know, wins, but dayum!) with a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9 and a 7.8 K/9. Those are really good numbers in any league. There figures to be many teams after Tanaka's services.
With the $20 million posting fee, which is now a "release" fee, meaning the Golden Eagles post him at $20 million and the team that signs him would have to pay that money in a release fee. Semantics.
Here are the teams I expect to be interested in Tanaka:
- All of them
Now, here are the team's I realistically expect to be interested in Tanaka:
And the wild cards:
My prediction on Tanaka landing spots (in order)
Dodgers: Well, I've written quite a bit about Tanaka, and while he'd be seen as a luxury by some, he's more of a necessity than a luxury to me. A top four of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanaka (with Dan Haren as the No. 5) is unrivaled.
Mariners: Surprisingly, the Mariners rank ahead of the Yankees for me. Tanaka's preference, reportedly, is to play on the West Coast so his travels to Japan are easier. The M's spent nearly a quarter-billion dollars on Robinson Cano, so it'd be wise to surround him with some more talent. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Tanaka and Taijuan Walker would be amazingly good.
Yankees: They need Tanaka the most, but budget limitations could prevent them from going all-in on him. By others' calculations, the Yanks are about $11 million south of the $189 million luxury tax number. Seeing as they paid $28 million in luxury taxes for 2013, they seem to be intent on lowering their payroll to that number. However, the savings they'll get when Alex Rodriguez is suspended is a wild card for them. After CC Sabathia (who could be declining) and Hiroki Kuroda (who struggled in the second half), there isn't a sure thing in the rotation. Tanaka isn't a sure thing, but he's better than what the Yankees have behind Sabathia and Kuroda.
Cubs: The North Siders fail the criterion of being a West Coast team, but they have lots of money and team president Theo Epstein has a history of signing Japanese players. Oh, and the Cubbies need a starting pitcher. This team is closer to contending than some may think, as their farm system is loaded with position players. There is a noticeable lack of good pitching prospects, though.
Astros: They are the biggest wild card in all this. Houston isn't technically West Coast, but it's closer than Chicago or New York. The Astros had, roughly, a $15 million payroll in 2013 in their rebuilding process. Some had suggested they'd be in on Shin-Soo Choo, but he went to the other team in that state. They could swoop in and steal him from the New Yorks and LAs of the baseball world. In two years, their rotation could look like this: Mark Appel, Tanaka, Carlos Rodon (potential No. 1 pick in 2014 MLB Draft) and Lance McCullers. That's pretty good.
Angels: I didn't immediately identify the Angels as a suitor for Tanaka because they've whiffed badly on their last two huge signings (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton). While they need pitching, Tanaka is going to cost a ton of money and it doesn't seem their budget is unlimited like, say, the Dodgers. But with Arte Moreno, anything is possible, I suppose.
Diamondbacks: Arizona has said Tanaka is its "No. 1 priority" this offseason -- well, aside from acquiring all of the grit. Tanaka is going to sign a nine-figure contract over six- or seven years. I'm not sure a commitment like that is in the Diamondbacks' nature.
Rangers: Before Choo signed for $130 million, the Rangers would have likely been in on Tanaka. Yu Darvish (and Tanaka isn't Darvish) has enjoyed great success in Texas and Tanaka would have made a nice pairing for the Rangers. But, it seems they'll be limited by their budget.
Giants: This one is just for show. The Giants are at the end of their budgetary commitment for 2014, so it doesn't seem like they'll be real players for Tanaka. San Francisco has a solid rotation already of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson. While a couple of those guys are volatile, it isn't as if the Giants need Tanaka -- and they probably can't afford him anyway.
This will all be resolved (in theory) by Jan. 24 -- that's when the posting time expires (30 days from day of posting date).
Tanaka's agent is Casey Close. He's a prominent agent with clients such as Kershaw, Greinke, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. If there's any benefit to be had, it looks like it might lie with the Dodgers and Yankees.
Money talks. The Dodgers have the most money, but I don't think they'll pay more the $120(ish) million for Tanaka (not counting the release fee). The M's could be the Dodgers' biggest competitor, with the Yankees needing him more than any other team here. But seriously, watch out for the Astros. I just have a weird feeling about them.
Photo credit: Neier, Wikimedia Commons