Would Masahiro Tanaka Make Mariners Instant 2014 Contenders?

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIJanuary 2, 2014

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 08: Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka #17 of Japan pitches during the World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1 game between Japan and Chinese Taipei at Tokyo Dome on March 8, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

There's no doubt that Masahiro Tanaka is the biggest name on the free-agent market.

Multiple MLB teams are jockeying for position to sign Tanaka, including the Seattle Mariners. After all, who wouldn't want Tanaka after coming off a year in Japan where he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles?

After the signing of Robinson Cano, the Mariners are looking to make an even bigger splash in free agency by signing Tanaka. With that said, will the Mariners sign Tanaka? And if they do, will they be instant contenders in 2014?

Can the Mariners Sign Tanaka?

Baseball America's Ben Badler ranks the Mariners as the favorite to sign Tanaka:

The Mariners have money to spend. They have a new regional television contract that will pay them $2 billion over 17 years. The Mariners showed off their deep pockets earlier this offseason by signing Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract, outbidding everyone by a wide margin.

Badler also pointed out how the Mariners have the money to sign Tanaka, despite Cano's signing:

Seattle owes around $47 million to Cano and Felix Hernandez next season, but beyond them, the team doesn’t have much on the books. There’s $6.5 million for Hisashi Iwakuma, $6 million for Corey Hart, then nobody guaranteed and projected to earn more than $3 million through arbitration. With only around $67 million in contracts before arbitration tied up, the Mariners have plenty of space to sign Tanaka.

The money is there and so is the need. Seattle’s desire to trade for David Price is no secret. They need to upgrade the team to contend in 2014 and take advantage of Hernandez and Cano while they’re still stars. And the current makeup of the team isn’t enough for them to be strong contenders in the AL West.

The Mariners have a roster chock full of youngsters, including Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager. The best thing about all of those guys is none are making much more than $500,000 a year for the next few years. That creates space to sign Tanaka.

Even if the money is there, that doesn't mean Tanaka is going to want to sign with Seattle. After all, the Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001.

But there is hope in Seattle, especially in the starting rotation. And that's going to have to be the Mariners' selling point. They'll have to sell Tanaka on coming to Seattle to help build a winner.

If Tanaka Does Sign With Seattle

First and foremost, you can expect the New York Yankees to be wallowing in their own misery. And you would expect them to after they watch the two big targets they wanted to sign (Cano and Tanaka) go somewhere else.

For the Mariners, it would give them a starting rotation that is comparable to the young rotation of the Miami Marlins:

* Note: Late-season call-ups by Mariners

** Note: Stats from Japan

The one thing you see from this list is a lot of young pitching that has a chance to be great. Of those listed, Hernandez is the only established starter. Fernandez and Iwakuma had great seasons last year, and the rest have all been top prospects at one time or another.

For Seattle, adding Tanaka would give them a starting rotation that would be among the best in MLB. It would also be a rotation that would be together for the foreseeable future.

Comparing Marlins and Mariners Starting Pitching (2013)
Jose Fernandez12-62.19Felix Hernandez12-103.04
Jacob Turner3-83.74Hisashi Iwakuma14-62.66
Nathan Eovaldi4-63.39Taijuan Walker*1-03.60
Henderson Alvarez5-63.59James Paxton*3-01.50
Tom Koehler5-104.41Masahiro Tanaka**24-01.27

Would the Mariners Be Contenders?

The hitting will have to come around if the Mariners are going to do anything. Having a good, young rotation, however, keeps you in ballgames like it did the Marlins last year despite their 62-100 record. The Marlins played in 59 one-run games and went 24-35 in those games, showing they had the talent to win many games. 

Seattle would be in that same position this year, although its offense is in a better position than Miami's last year.

Adding Cano, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart this offseason has upgraded the offense and makes the team better than it was last year. However, is it enough?

While adding Tanaka would be a great move for the Mariners, it's not one that would make them instant contenders in a crowded AL West. It would be a start, but more offense needs to be added to the Mariners if they are to compete.

If Seattle can develop its minor league hitters better and bring in a few impact hitters over the next few years, there's no doubt that signing Tanaka will pay dividends. It wouldn't be this year, but it could be in 2015 or 2016.


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