Is anything going to stop the deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers from signing Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka? And if they do land the coveted right-hander, is anything going to stop the Dodgers—period?
Tanaka is in town to undergo medical tests that will be released to all teams interested in negotiating with the recently posted pitcher, per Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times. It's no surprise, then, that the Dodgers figured now is as good a time as any to make it known they'll be going hard after the former top arm in Nippon Professional Baseball, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today alerts Friday:
To be clear, the Dodgers will have competition, as plenty of other clubs are lusting after Tanaka, a 25-year-old who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last year.
Among the other teams most often mentioned? Oh, just a few: The New York Yankees, the Seattle Mariners, the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago Cubs, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox. Really, the list goes on.
Of course, Tanaka does have a say in the matter of where he winds up, which is a new concept for Japanese players who are posted by their teams prior to reaching free agency. John Shea of the San Franciso Chronicle points out the preferred destinations of the projected front-of-the-rotation arm:
But the Dodgers just might be the favorites for any number of factors, including their current status as a contender, their location on the West Coast (which Tanaka has been rumored to prefer) and, no doubt, their money.
If Los Angeles inks Tanaka, continuing a spate of spending and splurging in the past 18 months that shows no signs of stopping, the Dodgers instantly would jump from serious contender to no-doubt World Series front runner.
As is, the Dodgers are positioned to once again be the class of the weak NL West, which they won by 11 games last season—after being 9.5 games out in late June. But add Tanaka to a star-studded roster, and, well, the rest of the National League might be playing for second place.
Remember, Los Angeles already has a rotation filled to the brim with top-notch starters in reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, masterful right-hander Zack Greinke and second-year southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu. Beyond that, there's the trio of veteran bounce-back candidates in righties Dan Haren, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley.
Inserting Tanaka into that talented, deep group means the rich would only be getting richer, which is nothing new for the Dodgers these days.
In fact, with a front foursome of Kershaw, Tanaka, Greinke and Ryu, L.A. might enter the 2014 season with the best quartet of starters in baseball, even ahead of the impressive rotations in Detroit and Washington, among others.
The last time a team's top four starters were that good? Last year's Tigers, featuring Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, merit consideration. Prior to that, there's the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who rolled with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
It may not be a coincidence, then, that a Dodgers team with Tanaka, playing in a division they're poised to dominate, could threaten to become the first club to crack the 100-win mark since—wait for it—those very Phillies.
In other words, if they pony up for Tanaka, the Dodgers could be setting themselves up to take over the top seed entering next October.
Of course, neither that Phillies club nor last year's Tigers team managed to make it to the World Series. Detroit, remember, lost to the Red Sox in the Championship Series last season, while the Phillies fell out even earlier in 2011 when they were upset by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series.
The common thread? Both Boston and St. Louis went on to win it all in their respective postseasons. Goes to show that even with a first-rate five-man rotation, nothing is a given.
|Rotations with Highest Single-Season fWAR Since 2009|
|2013||Tigers||25.3||Lost in ALCS|
|2011||Phillies||24.7||Lost in NLDS|
|2012||Tigers||20.6||Lost in WS|
Here's where it should be noted that the Dodgers actually led all teams in rotation ERA last year—their 3.13 ERA was more than eight percent better than the next-best—and they, too, came up short of the Fall Classic.
So even with Tanaka in tow, nothing is guaranteed for the Dodgers. Plus, they might be shaping up as a 2014-or-bust team, given that Kershaw and shortstop Hanley Ramirez are set to hit the open market after next season.
After all, one imagines that giving $100-plus million to Tanaka might impact even the Dodgers' ability to keep both Kershaw and Ramirez, each of whom will command their own nine figure contracts, in town for 2015 and beyond.
At this point, the Dodgers have to be considered one of the favorites—if not the favorite—to land Tanaka, who would put them in position to win the winter and then dominate the spring and summer.
Still, with a bunch of high-priced talent already on the roster and two of their top players on the verge of free agency, paying up for Tanaka now could burn the Dodgers in the future if they don't win it all this fall.
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