Get your popcorn ready, folks.
When it comes to the free-agent tour for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, expect a whirlwind of rumors, news and excitement over the next two weeks. By the end of January, the top pitcher on the market will pick a team, starting a domino effect for the rest of baseball's available players.
At this point, it's probably easier to list the teams not interested in Tanaka. With a posting fee of only $20 million—owed only when Tanaka's signature is on a free-agent contract—almost any team, in any market, can engage the 25-year-old pitcher in a conversation.
From there, the fun begins.
Earlier this week, Tanaka arrived in the United States, ready and willing to meet with teams. In the interest of time, the right-handed pitcher took a physical exam upon arriving in Los Angeles, with the idea of distributing one medical report to all interested parties, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Assuming that medical report comes up clean, expect the contract offers to roll in quickly.
Here's a rundown of all the latest rumors and news surrounding Tanaka's U.S. recruiting tour.
Go big or go home.
That was the message from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the rest of baseball when Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Dodgers are all-in in their efforts to sign Tanaka and won't be outbid.
While the report and big talk may be designed to scare off some mid-market suitors, the Dodgers shouldn't be taken lightly here. If they truly want to add Tanaka to their rotation, the money is there to make it happen. Of course, money does matter somewhat. Nightengale also tweeted that the Dodgers won't spend wildly to sign their man.
With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu already in tow, the Dodgers could boast the best rotation in baseball by acquiring the Japanese star. Furthermore, it would protect Los Angeles in the event that Clayton Kershaw, a free agent next winter, rebuffs overtures at a lucrative, long-term contract.
Despite spending over $300 million this offseason in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees have a gaping hole in their 40-man roster: starting rotation.
When assembling a blueprint for rebuilding that pitching staff, signing the two best Japanese pitchers available, Tanaka and Kuroda, became a basic tenant. Kuroda is back, but the Yankees are desperate to fortify their rotation, per Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger.
That desperation could lead to a major offer for Tanaka. When the dust settles, the Yankees and Dodgers could go toe-to-toe for a pitcher that has never thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball.
The Mariners, after spending $240 million on Robinson Cano, trading for Logan Morrison and importing Corey Hart from Milwaukee, are an improved baseball team.
While that's a given, it's unknown exactly how much they've improved. After losing 91 games in 2013, it's hard to imagine Seattle jumping past the 82-win range in 2014, despite the improvements.
In order to enter spring training with a realistic shot at competing in the loaded AL West, more reinforcements are needed. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Mariners front office is weighing options, including signing Tanaka, but needs ownership approval to make further big-ticket moves.
If that approval arrives, Tanaka could feel at home in a city that has been the home of Japanese players like Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma.
The current rendition of the posting process actually hurts the Chicago Cubs.
If the system was simply a blind bid, awarding Tanaka's rights to the highest bidder for a free-agent negotiation, the Cubs—led by the general manager Theo Epstein, who submitted a winning bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka—would stand a great chance of landing the Japanese righty.
Instead, the Cubs now have one significant factor working against them: If Tanaka wants to play for a winner, Chicago can't provide that, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago.
As Rogers points out, the rebuilding Cubs aren't staring down an impossible hurdle, but it's part of the equation. Tanaka's arrival at Wrigley Field can change the narrative and help the Cubs contend, but it's impossible to sell him on joining a winning team right now.
After seriously pursuing free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, the Arizona Diamondbacks have money to burn on an impact free agent.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Diamondbacks were still open to the idea of bidding on Choo when Scott Boras informed teams that $140 million would be a realistic number for the dynamic on-base machine. Eventually, Choo signed in Texas for seven years and $130 million.
Despite missing out on their outfield target, the Diamondbacks proved that ownership is willing to spend on a big-ticket item. Now, with Tanaka highlighting the free-agent class, their presence shouldn't be taken lightly as the sweepstakes roll on.
The Phillies, buoyed by a new 25-year, $2.5 billion television deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, are a sleeper in the Tanaka sweepstakes.
According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, the Phillies have contacted Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, about the free-agent starter.
As Zolecki points out, the conversation was likely due diligence, but don't discount Philadelphia from engaging in further talks for the impact starter. According to general manager Ruben Amaro, the Phillies want to do their business quietly. Per Zolecki's reporting:
"Listen, we try to do our business quietly," Amaro said. "We still have had dialogue with some free agents. We have had dialogue with clubs about possible trades. We'll continue to do that through Spring Training. If there are things we need to address, we'll definitely do that."
With a pitching staff—despite featuring Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—that finished 27th in baseball, per ESPN, with a 4.32 ERA in 2013, pitching is something the Phillies certainly need to address.
The Chicago White Sox, no strangers to the international market after inking Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract, sent the most prominent voices in their organization to sell Tanaka on the long-term vision of the franchise, per Dan Hayes of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
According to the report, the White Sox sent general manager Rick Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and manager Robin Ventura to Los Angeles to meet with Tanaka.
Despite the White Sox's losing record, similar to their Chicago counterparts, the team can cite a winning record in 2012, Abreu's willingness to sign and the possibility of Chris Sale and Tanaka forming the best combination atop any rotation in baseball.
One year after allowing the trio of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams to make 58 starts, the Angels are on the hunt for starting pitching. While the offseason acquisitions of Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs and Mark Mulder provide depth, Los Angeles can still use a top-level pitcher to slot in behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in their starting rotation.
Obviously, Tanaka fits the bill.
According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, they fit one of Tanaka's criteria: playing in the city of Los Angeles. If Tanaka is more apt to sign in Los Angeles, the Angels will become aware of that quickly.
Furthermore, there's a connection between Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, and a member of the Angels front office, Hal Morris. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Close and Morris were teammates during their college days at Michigan.
If a starting pitcher is available, the Twins are likely interested.
Even after signing Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey to multiyear contracts, Minnesota has been linked to free-agent starters Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo.
Now, according to Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500, we can add Tanaka's name to the list of pitchers Minnesota is interested in for the 2014 season. As Wolfson points out, the Twins understand that the Tanaka process will be long, featuring many teams and likely to drag until until the end of January.
It would be foolish to call Minnesota a front-runner in the Tanaka race, but its desire for impact starting pitching has been evident this winter.
In 2013, the Indians were nine innings from a trip to Boston for the ALDS. According to Paul Hoynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group, they're interested in acquiring a pitcher to help put them over the top in 2014.
Per Hoynes' reporting, "the Indians are in the game and it would not be surprising if they make a lucrative multiyear offer, including the $20 million posting fee."
Cleveland's manager, Terry Francona, was the inaugural major league manager for Japanese standout Matsuzaka upon his arrival to the U.S. in Boston in 2007.
In 2013, Toronto's starting pitching—led by reigning 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey—was poised to be a strength of the team. By the end of the season, the Blue Jays were in last place and the starting rotation combined to post a 4.81 ERA, per ESPN.
That ugly number has made Toronto a popular spot for rumors surrounding free-agent starters this winter.
Manager John Gibbons gave credence to the Blue Jays' interest in Tanaka, according to Shi Davidi of SportsNet.ca.
Per Davidi's reporting, Gibbons spoke about the Blue Jays front office chasing Tanaka.
“I know they’re feeling around to see what’s going on with him,” Gibbons said. “But I think most of the teams out there at least put out some feelers for him. (Tanaka) is going to make a lot of money, I know that.”
If Toronto can land the Japanese ace, a projected rotation of Tanaka, Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle and Kyle Drabek could change the fate of the Blue Jays' 2014 season.
As if the slew of well-known bidders wasn't enough, two more big-market powers—Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers—could be lurking in the background of the Tanaka chase, per Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger.
Ironically, these teams completed a blockbuster deal in November. After swapping Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler and cash, both Texas and Detroit changed the long-term outlook of their payroll.
Allocating found money for Tanaka would be bold, but don't rule out anything from these World Series hopefuls.
In Detroit, replacing Doug Fister in the starting rotation would give the Tigers baseball's best top four (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Tanaka) and protect them in the event that Scherzer leaves as a free agent after 2014.
In Texas, general manager Jon Daniels could pair Tanaka with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish to form one of the most unique rotations in history.
Where will Tanaka land?
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