The new year has begun, and Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has yet to officially be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
It's all but inevitable that he'll make his way to the MLB this coming season, though, and teams are already lining up for a chance to offer up the $20 million posting fee and have a chance to negotiate with what most consider to be the best arm on the market.
The New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners are currently viewed as the favorites to sign Tanaka, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. They are far from the only teams in the running, though, as Badler ranked 10 possible suitors for his services.
That being said, Tanaka will make his way to Chicago sometime this week to meet with the rebuilding Cubs and White Sox, according to Luke Stuckmeyer of CSN Chicago.
Both teams could certainly use Tanaka in their rotations for the 2014 season, but what really makes him such an appealing target is the fact that he's still just 25 years old.
While he's capable of stepping in and making an impact at or near the top of the rotation from day one, the fact that he'll be in the prime of his career through the duration of the contract he signs makes him that much better an option for a team that is still a few years from contention.
He already has seven pro seasons under his belt in Japan, and he's coming off an absolutely dominant 2013 campaign.
|Masahiro Tanaka Career Stats|
Since Yu Darvish joined the Texas Rangers prior to the 2012 season, Tanaka has been the premier pitcher in the Japanese League, and he will likely surpass the six-year, $56 million deal that Darvish got from the Rangers
Due to the new cap of $20 million for posting fees, teams won't have to pony up something in the neighborhood of the $51.7 million the Rangers had to pay to win the right to negotiate with Darvish, and with several teams instead of just one negotiating, the price for Tanaka will inevitably climb.
So the question here is: Should the rebuilding Chicago teams get involved in a bidding war that could push his overall contact north of $100 million? Lets take a closer look at both teams' current pitching situation.
The White Sox have a bona fide staff ace in Chris Sale to build around moving forward, as he has quickly emerged as one of the best starters in baseball since joining the starting rotation in 2012.
The team wisely locked him up with a team-friendly five-year, $32.5 million extension prior to the 2013 season, and he is under team control though 2019, including a pair of option years.
Behind Sale, however, the rotation is a question mark in both the short-term and the long-term. Here is a look at the current projected starting rotation to open the 2014 season.
|Chicago White Sox Projected Opening Day Rotation|
|1. LHP Chris Sale||24||30 GS, 11-14, 3.07 ERA, 226 K, 214.1 IP|
|2. LHP Jose Quintana||24||33 GS, 9-7, 3.51 ERA, 164 K, 200 IP|
|3. LHP John Danks||28||22 GS, 4-14, 4.75 ERA, 89 K, 138.1 IP|
|4. RHP Erik Johnson||24||5 GS, 3-2, 3.25 ERA, 18 K, 27.2 IP|
|5. RHP Felipe Paulino||30||DNP: Tommy John surgery recovery|
|-. RHP Andre Rienzo||25||10 GS, 2-3, 4.82 ERA, 38 K, 56 IP|
Jose Quintana pitched well in his first full season as starter, and top prospect Erik Johnson held his own in five starts down the stretch. Both are currently 24 and could solidify their places in the team's long-term plans with a strong 2014 showing.
Meanwhile, John Danks is due $42.75 million over the next three seasons and is a prime candidate to be traded if he can re-establish some value.
Felipe Paulino was signed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal after missing all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was off to a great start in 2012, going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA through his first seven starts, before he was injured, but he's a risk nonetheless.
If Paulino falters, Brazilian right-hander Andre Rienzo is likely next in line for a rotation spot after a decent showing over 10 starts as a rookie last season.
As for prospects who could help the White Sox out down the road, the team is relatively thin on impact arms, though they do have a few.
|Chicago White Sox Top Pitching Prospects|
|Player||Age||2013 Level||2013 Stats|
|Chris Beck||23||A+/AA||26 GS, 13-10, 3.07 ERA, 79 K, 146.2 IP|
|Tyler Danish||19||RK/A||15 G, 1-0, 1.20 ERA, 28 K, 30 IP|
|Eric Surkamp||26||A+/AAA||16 GS, 7-1, 2.80 ERA, 71 K, 86.2 IP|
|Scott Snodgress||24||AA||26 GS, 11-11, 4.70 ERA, 90 K, 143.2 IP|
Last year's second-round pick Tyler Danish will be one to watch moving forward, as he has plenty of upside. Chris Beck and former Giants prospect Eric Surkamp could both see the majors at some point in 2014, though neither profile as anything more than back-end starters.
Signing Tanaka would give the White Sox a second arm they can count on long-term alongside Chris Sale, and if both Jose Quintana and Erik Johnson can turn in strong seasons in 2014, the starting rotation could emerge as a strength for the White Sox with Tanaka in the fold.
While the White Sox at least have Chris Sale to build their rotation around long-term, the Cubs would be signing Tanaka to be the ace of their staff moving forward, as they are without a proven arm to front their staff.
Entering last season, it looked like Jeff Samardzija had a chance to be that guy, but he took a step back in 2013 and has been rumored to be on the move throughout the offseason, as he has been unable to come to terms on an extension.
That said, there are some solid pieces in the Cubs rotation, including a couple of guys at the back end with a chance at a breakout year of sorts. Here is how their rotation currently projects for Opening Day.
|Chicago Cubs' Projected Opening Day Rotation|
|1. RHP Jeff Samardzija||28||33 GS, 8-13, 4.34 ERA, 214 K, 213.2 IP|
|2. LHP Travis Wood||26||32 GS, 9-12, 3.11 ERA, 144 K, 200 IP|
|3. RHP Edwin Jackson||30||31 GS, 8-18, 4.98 ERA, 135 K, 175.1 IP|
|4. RHP Jake Arrieta||27||14 GS, 5-4, 4.78 ERA, 60 K, 75.1 IP|
|5. LHP Chris Rusin||27||13 GS, 2-6, 3.93 ERA, 36 K, 66.1 IP|
|-. RHP Justin Grimm||25||27 G, 17 GS, 7-9, 5.97 ERA, 76 K, 98 IP|
Travis Wood established himself as a core piece with a terrific 2013, recording 24 quality starts including nine straight to open the season, as he earned a trip to the All-Star Game.
Edwin Jackson was signed to a four-year, $52 million contract last offseason and was expected to bring consistency and durability to the rotation if nothing else. Instead, he posted his worst ERA since 2007 and led the NL with 18 losses.
The real X-factor is Jake Arrieta, a former top prospect in the Baltimore Orioles system who was acquired in the Scott Feldman trade. In nine starts with the Cubs following the trade, the right-hander was 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP as he looked to benefit greatly from the change of scenery.
Chris Rusin will get every chance to round out the staff after a solid showing last year, but a 4.75 FIP suggests he was the beneficiary of some good luck. If he can't lock down the No. 5 spot, Carlos Villanueva could get another crack at starting.
Turning our attention to the farm system, the Cubs are loaded with potential impact hitters but remain relatively thin on the pitching side of things. Here is a look at their top pitching prospects.
|Chicago Cubs' Top Pitching Prospects|
|Player||Age||2013 Level||2013 Stats|
|Pierce Johnson||22||A/A+||21 GS, 11-6, 2.74 ERA, 124 K, 118.1 IP|
|C.J. Edwards||22||A/A+||24 GS, 8-2, 1.86 ERA, 155 K, 116.1 IP|
|Neil Ramirez||24||AA||22 GS, 9-3, 3.68 ERA, 132 K, 107.2 IP|
|Paul Blackburn||20||A-||12 GS, 2-3, 3.33 ERA, 38 K, 46 IP|
|Kyle Hendricks||24||AA/AAA||27 GS, 13-4, 2.00 ERA, 128 K, 166.1 IP|
The team's top pitching prospect remains former Atlanta Braves farmhand Arodys Vizcaino, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery but had lights-out stuff prior to the injury.
As for the pitcher who did play, Pierce Johnson looks like he'll be a middle-of-the-rotation starter at worst and he should continue to move quickly. The duo of C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez were acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal.
On top of those names listed above, the team also took six pitcher with their first eight selections in last June's draft, focusing mainly on high-floor college arms, so there could be a few more names added to this list by the end of 2014.
Tanaka may be something of a question given he is moving from Japan to the MLB, but he still profiles as a safer bet to be a front-of-the-rotation arm than anything the Cubs have to work with right now.
The team has been very quiet this offseason, and has shed a good deal of payroll since Theo Epstein and company took office. Could Tanaka be their first major signing? Time will tell.
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