With a little less than two weeks left before Masahiro Tanaka must decide where to advance his already impressive pitching career, there appear to be three front-runners for the Japanese star.
The deadline for any Major League Baseball team to sign Tanaka—the 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last year and was posted in late December after winning the Japan Series and the Sawamura Award—is Jan. 24 at 5 p.m.
While there have been numerous reports that list at least a dozen (or more) teams as interested parties, it seems that three are now considered the favorites, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, citing a report from Japanese publication Sports Hochi:
Things can change, given the number of other suitors and the level of their lusting after Tanaka, who is projected to be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. But among these three clubs—the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels—which one is the best fit?
Let's break it down.
New York Yankees
Why Tanaka Should Be a Yankee
There are any number of reasons why the Yankees should be appealing to Tanaka. Like the fact that New York is the biggest baseball market around. Or the fact that the Yankees are a brand unto themselves, one that is capable of making stars shine even brighter and has maintained its contender status for the past 20 years.
And let's not forget that while Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa didn't exactly work out, the team has done more than OK recently with Japanese stars like Hideki Matsui as well as Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda, both of whom are currently on the team to help with assimilation.
Plus, with beloved Mariano Rivera retired, captain Derek Jeter nearly there, ace CC Sabathia declining and Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez out of the picture (for entirely different reasons), Tanaka has a unique opportunity to step into pinstripes and be one of the present and future faces for the biggest franchise in the sport.
Quite simply, New York might be the destination for Tanaka, if he wants to become in America what he was in Japan.
Why the Yankees Need Tanaka
Perhaps no contending club needs both youth and pitching—two undeniable elements Tanaka brings—more than the Yankees. Beyond Sabathia, Kuroda and the enigmatic Ivan Nova, New York's rotation is lacking in depth and quality.
The Yankees, of course, can afford to pay Tanaka what he wants now and still spend in the future to keep stars around him, too.
Most of all, don't underestimate the Yankees' desire—nay, need—to avoid the unthinkable: back-to-back postseason-less years.
For the Yankees, the risk is going into the luxury-tax penalty again with a payroll north of $189 million for 2014. That's been more of a stated goal, though, than an outright manifesto.
As far as Tanaka's perspective, well, even all the way from Japan, he's probably aware that the Yankees are old and still are far from finished with the Rodriguez saga. In other words, there's at least some blow-up factor in the team's current state.
Also, New York is on the exact opposite coast that Tanaka is rumored to favor because of proximity to his native country.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Why Tanaka Should Be a Dodger
Of these three teams, the Dodgers and their star-studded roster would give Tanaka the best shot to contend immediately and for the next two to three years. The state of the NL West compared to that of the more competitive AL East and AL West divisions has a little something to do with that.
Tanaka, who has never had to face the quality and depth of major league lineups, may also benefit from pitching in the NL where the opposing pitcher bats instead of the designated hitter.
Additionally, the Dodgers helped break ground as far as Japanese stars joining MLB in the mid-1990s when Hideo Nomo became an instant mania unto himself. That could happen all over again for Tanaka in Los Angeles, which is more or less on par with New York both financially and in terms of market size and scope.
Beyond that, there are other current foreign stars on the Dodgers roster, including Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu of Korea.
Why the Dodgers Need Tanaka
Los Angeles' rotation already is one of the best in baseball, headed by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Ryu, so there may not seem to be as obvious a need for Tanaka.
Don't forget, though, that Kershaw, the incumbent ace and reigning NL Cy Young winner, is set to hit free agency after the 2014 season. The two sides have had extension talks—with the number $300 million being thrown around, per Buster Olney of ESPN—but nothing has been decided just yet.
While Kershaw remains a priority for the Dodgers, netting Tanaka at least would give them a ready-made replacement for the left-hander.
Above all that? Well, the Dodgers plainly want to win it all, and to this point, they've shown no signs of slowing down their spending to do so.
While the Dodgers seem to have all the money in the world, can they really afford to pay nine figures simultaneously to (deep breath) Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, who already have their deals, as well as Kershaw and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, both of whom will be getting their own by next offseason, and Tanaka, too?
If Tanaka inks with the Dodgers, chances are the current roster will be together for 2014 only, after which one or more of the stars will have to go, whether via free agency or trade.
Los Angeles Angels
Why Tanaka Should Be an Angel
If Tanaka values being the staff ace, a role with which he became familiar with the Golden Eagles, the Angels would allow him to fill that position more so than either the Yankees or Dodgers.
Sure, Jered Weaver is the No. 1 and nominal ace, but he's also battled injuries in each of the past two seasons and has lost velocity along the way, too. The Angels would be smart to target a younger pitcher to ascend to top-starter status with the 31-year-old Weaver's career trajectory and durability sloping downward.
While the Angels might not seem as appealing because they've finished in third place in the AL West each of the past two years—and won but 78 games in 2013—there's no shortage of big names and talent on the roster. If the Halos finally fulfill their potential next season with Tanaka in tow, he certainly would get a great deal of credit.
Why the Angels Need Tanaka
Los Angeles addressed its rotation problems by trading for young left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in one fell swoop back in December, but starting pitching remains the team's easiest aspect to upgrade.
Behind Weaver, the only sure thing is veteran southpaw C.J. Wilson. Otherwise, it's Skaggs, Santiago and Garrett Richards, whose 29 career starts are the most of that trio.
Like the Yankees, the Angels don't have much in the way of talented big league ready arms in the high minors, so Tanaka could be the missing piece that sets them up for a quick turnaround.
With more than $300 million left on the massive, back-loaded pacts for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels already are right up against the luxury-tax threshold.
Even worse, they need to be working on their financial flexibility with regards to locking up Mike Trout, who's only the best all-around player in the sport—and likely to command the first-ever $300 million contract.
All that considered, the Angels might not have the funds to fit Tanaka, who is likely to get well above $100 million himself.
The Yankees and Angels obviously need Tanaka more than do the Dodgers, which might make them more desperate—and desperation can cause teams to do expensive things.
The Dodgers being outbid, though, appears to be an impossibility at the moment, meaning for them, it's just a matter of how badly they want Tanaka—and want to put themselves in position to be the favorites of the NL.
If it comes down to that, the Dodgers already have the market, West Coast location and contender status to be the best fit for Tanaka. And more importantly, the money to make him fit, too.
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