As the calendar prepares to turn over to 2014, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes are really set to heat up. The Japanese superstar came into the offseason as one of the most coveted commodities on the market, given the lack of true marquee talent on the Major League free agent market. Though there were questions about his availability and whether or not he’d even be posted, Tanaka will be in a big league rotation in 2014.
He’s not quite the talent that Yu Darvish was when he was making the jump over the Pacific, but many view him as a no. 2 or 3 starter nonetheless. Unlike previous years, teams are required to pay only a $20 million posting fee at max, which figures to be the case with Tanaka. That’s in addition to whatever contract Tanaka ends up agreeing to. At this point, we know which teams are going to be in on him, and you can expect the majority of the league to at least look into him to a minimal degree.
However, at the end of the day, there are only going to be a few teams with a legitimate shot at signing him. We’ve heard of a few mid and small market teams that have interest, such as the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers. The O’s, however, are unwilling to pay the posting fee, unsurprising given their unwillingness to pay big money for pitching, and the Brewers don’t likely have the chops to sign him even if they could compete with the bigger markets. You might be able to throw a team like the Toronto Blue Jays in there as another club that has an outside shot.
When it comes down to it, there are only a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at signing Tanaka, both from a financial standpoint, and from the point of view of whether or not he’d even be interested in signing there. The big three in the race are likely the New York Yankees, the Chicago Cubs, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in addition to someone like the Los Angeles Angels, who may have just enough free cash to sign him.
The Yankees and the Dodgers are viewed as the favorites. The Yankees obviously have the money and they have the dire need for starting pitching. The Dodgers have the money and have the advantage of being on the West Coast, where Tanaka is rumored to want to play. It’d be an example of the rich getting richer, as they already boast a pretty potent rotation. There are rumors that the Cubs will not be outbid for Tanaka’s services, as they’ve appeared to be positioning themselves to reign him in all winter. Their recent struggles could hurt them, but they likely have a realistic shot. The Angels might be a bit hamstrung in the financials, but they’re a likely contender playing on the West Coast. They’ll be in the mix as well.
It’s tough to see Masahiro Tanaka signing with anyone outside of those four clubs. There are others that will be in on him, sure. But when you consider the money it will take to sign him, it’s likely going to be a big market team to land him, and with three of those four clubs mentioned in need of starting pitching, especially top line starting pitching, it’d be a surprise to see him land anywhere else.