Imagining Each MLB Suitor's Starting Rotation with Masahiro Tanaka

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

Imagining Each MLB Suitor's Starting Rotation with Masahiro Tanaka

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    Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

    The anticipation for Masahiro Tanaka's decision has reached a fever pitch, which is good news because the Japanese star will officially be a Major League Baseball player by January 24. 

    That is the deadline for a team to sign the 25-year-old. We still don't know which teams have placed, or will place, the $20 million posting fee for the right to negotiate with him, but there are enough whispers floating around that we know the main suitors. 

    Not surprisingly, the most talked about teams in the Tanaka sweepstakes are on the East Coast (New York Yankees) and West Coast (Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels). They have the most money to spend, offer opportunities to win right away and more media exposure than you can imagine. 

    But there are other candidates who can offer big money and have glaring holes in the starting rotation that you shouldn't sleep on.

    For this discussion, we will examine the six suitors, ranked in ascending order, most often mentioned with Tanaka (Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Angels, Rangers) and what both sides would get out of a potential deal. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

6. Texas Rangers

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    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Tanaka                           

    No. 1 Yu Darvish, RHP
    No. 2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
    No. 3 Matt Harrison, LHP
    No. 4 Martin Perez. LHP
    No. 5 Colby Lewis, RHP/Alexi Ogando, RHP 

    Derek Holland will slot into No. 3 spot when he returns from knee surgery at midseason, pushing everyone else back a spot and Alexi Ogando to bullpen . 


    Why Rangers are No. 6

    Injury or no injury to Derek Holland, I don't think general manager Jon Daniels will commit the money necessary to sign Masahiro Tanaka, which Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun Times reports could reach $140 million. 

    The Rangers have already spent $130 million on Shin-Soo Choo, re-signed Elvis Andrus for $120 million for eight years last season and added seven years of Prince Fielder in a trade with Detroit. They may not want to go for broke, especially with good young pitching coming through the minors. 


    What Tanaka would offer Rangers

    Tanaka has the potential to make any rotation stronger, but he would strike me as simply quality depth for a team like the Rangers. They already have one of the best pitchers in baseball, Yu Darvish.

    Derek Holland is expected back in July, which will basically be like Jon Daniels making a trade at the deadline for a quality mid-rotation starter.

    Matt Harrison will be back after throwing just 10.2 innings last season. He was an under-the-radar starter in 2011 and 2012, compiling 7.7. Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement in two years. 

    Martin Perez is the young pitcher Texas believes can take the next step. He's coming off a solid rookie season, posting a 3.62 ERA in 124.1 innings. The 22-year-old lefty has a power arm and will need to start missing more bats, but the upside is huge. 

    Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis can fill in the back of a rotation until Holland returns. The Rangers aren't a team that needs to add another high-priced starting pitcher to compete in the American League West. 

5. Los Angeles Angels

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Tanaka

    No. 1 Jered Weaver, RHP
    No. 2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
    No. 3 C.J. Wilson, LHP
    No. 4 Tyler Skaggs, LHP
    No. 5 Garrett Richards, RHP/Hector Santiago, LHP


    Why the Angels are No. 5

    I thought about moving the Angels higher, but it's so hard to figure out where this franchise is at when it comes to spending money.

    It's got so much invested in Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson that committing another $100-plus million dollars in an unproven starting pitcher could be crippling. Keep in mind the Angels also have to figure out a way to re-sign Mike Trout in the next four years. 

    In terms of need, the Angels would rank much higher on this list. They have nothing coming up in the system. Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, two young, cost-effective lefties, were acquired in a three-team trade this offseason. 

    It also doesn't help the team's case that it never met with Tanaka when he was in the United States last week, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.


    What Tanaka would offer Angels

    While I'm not as in love with Tanaka as some analysts and scouting reports, he projects as a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher. A team like the Angels, in desperate need of upside and depth, does need a pitcher like that in the big leagues. 

    This is a team that's supposed to win right now. You don't spend over $300 million on players like Pujols, Hamilton and Wilson hoping to win 80-85 games per season. 

    Unfortunately that strategy is one reason the Angels are in their current predicament. They've had to forfeit draft picks and haven't developed anything other than Trout in the last three years. 

    We know the offense is going to be among the best in baseball, but the problem has been and will continue to be pitching. Even Jered Weaver has shown signs of slowing down, battling injuries that have dropped his innings from 235.2 in 2011 to 154.1 in 2013. His ERA has also jumped nearly a full run, from 2.41 two years ago to 3.27 in 2013. 

    Tanaka would give the Angels a nice fallback option if/when Weaver gets hurt and provide a good bridge to C.J. Wilson, who should be the No. 3 pitcher in a quality rotation. 

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Tanaka

     No. 1 Patrick Corbin, LHP 
     No. 2 Wade Miley, LHP
     No. 3 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
     No. 4 Brandon McCarthy, RHP
     No. 5 Trevor Cahill, RHP


    Why the Diamondbacks are No. 4

    I think I am still stuck on an interview Arizona general manager Kevin Towers did in mid-December on MLB Network Radio, saying the team was in on some combination of Tanaka, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza. 

    Kevin Towers #Diamondbacks reiterated on our show that they are still "in" on 2 of Tanaka, Garza & Santana #SiriusXM Sirius 209 XM 89

    — JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 18, 2013

    Combine that with a recent report from Steve Gilbert of about the Diamondbacks having a plan to sign Tanaka, I think they could be a dark horse in this race. 

    However, when you look at the Diamondbacks compared to the teams ahead of them on this list, it's hard to see Arizona having enough money in the budget to sign Tanaka. 


    What Tanaka would offer Diamondbacks

    For all the fun that I, and many others, have at Arizona's expense for making puzzling moves, Kevin Towers has a strong starting rotation in place. Patrick Corbin is only 24 and had a breakout 2013 season. Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Randal Delgado are all 27 or under. 

    Archie Bradley, the top pitching prospect in baseball at 21 years old, could be called up at some point this season. 

    The point being that starting pitching isn't an area of need for the Diamondbacks, though having someone to fill that gap between Corbin and Miley at the top of the rotation and Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill at the back of the rotation wouldn't be a bad thing. 

    I do wonder about Tanaka in a park like Chase Field. He throws a straight fastball with no plane thanks to a crouch in his delivery that allows hitters to elevate the ball. Natural logic tells you that giving up more fly balls leads to more home runs. 


3. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Dodgers

    No. 1 Clayton Kershaw, LHP
    No. 2 Zack Greinke, RHP
    No. 3 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
    No. 4 Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP
    No. 5 Josh Beckett, RHP/Dan Haren, RHP


    Why the Dodgers are No. 3

    If we had done this list 24 hours ago, the Dodgers likely would have been one spot higher. Then they went and gave Clayton Kershaw $215 million for seven years, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne, and changed everything. 

    I still have to put the Dodgers high on the list because no one knows what their spending limit is, if they even have one.

    But the odds of them paying Tanaka as much money as he is likely to warrant, combined with making Kershaw the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history and owing Zack Greinke roughly $120 million over the next five years, seems slim. 

    It also doesn't help that the Dodgers potentially have six starting pitchers, assuming Josh Beckett is ready for Opening Day, for five spots. 


    What Tanaka offers Dodgers

    It seems strange to say about a pitcher who, in all likelihood, will sign a deal worth more than $100 million is excess for a team, but what other word could be used to describe what Tanaka brings to the Dodgers?

    They already have the best pitcher in the sport, Kershaw, who has won two of the last three National League Cy Young Awards and is just 25 years old, signed to a seven-year contract. Greinke, who can be a top 10-15 pitcher when healthy, is under contract through 2018. 

    Hyun-Jin Ryu put together a very solid rookie season and should be effective for the duration of his contract. Dan Haren could thrive in a good pitching environment like Dodger Stadium. 

    I'm not sold that Josh Beckett has anything left in the tank, but the team has good pitching depth in the minors. Zach Lee is moving closer to the big leagues after an excellent season in Double-A. 

    Tanaka has more upside than Ryu, Haren or Beckett, but given how much money the front office has already spent on the roster and a weak division, the Dodgers figure to control the NL West for a long time as presently constructed. 

2. Chicago Cubs

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Tanaka

    No. 1 Jeff Samardzija, RHP
    No. 2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
    No. 3 Edwin Jackson, RHP
    No. 4 Travis Wood, LHP
    No. 5 Jake Arrieta, RHP


    Why the Cubs are No. 2

    Until Thursday, I wasn't sure how serious to take the Cubs in the Tanaka sweepstakes. When you have doubts, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports comes to the rescue and sets you straight with this little nugget. 

    Sources: #Cubs pushing hard for Tanaka. #Angels remain involved, along with others previously mentioned - #Yankees, #Dodgers, etc.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 16, 2014

    The Cubs make all the sense in the world for a player like Tanaka. If you pay attention to farm systems, or read any prospect lists heading into the season, you know that the Cubs are loaded with position players and light on pitching. 

    C.J. Edwards, who was acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade, has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system, but his 155-pound frame leads to concerns about his ability to handle 180-plus innings every year. 

    After Edwards, though, there's a whole lot of relievers in that system. It needs all the starting pitching it can get right now, because those position players will start arriving in late 2014 and the contention window will open in 2015-16. 


    What Tanaka offers Cubs

    Ponder this question when thinking about the Cubs: If Jeff Samardzija doesn't re-sign with the team, what is the starting rotation going to look like in 2016?

    Edwin Jackson is under contract through 2016. Travis Wood is arbitration eligible through 2016. After that, uh...Jake Arrieta, who flamed out in Baltimore and had a 37-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51.2 innings with the Cubs, is next in line after Edwards. 

    It's plausible that the Cubs could dip into the free-agent pool next year, which is on track to include Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Homer Bailey, Justin Masterson and James Shields. But all of those pitchers will be at least four years older than Tanaka is right now. 

    The Cubs offer Tanaka a golden opportunity that he won't get anywhere else. There's no pressure to win in Chicago right now because the fans understand the 2014 roster is built to hold things down until Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora arrive. 

    He wouldn't be under the intense microscope right away, like he would in Los Angeles or New York. He can get his feet wet for a year, then be prepared to lead a rotation in 2015. 

1. New York Yankees

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 Rotation w/ Tanaka

    No. 1 CC Sabathia, LHP
    No. 2 Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
    No. 3 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
    No. 4 Ivan Nova, RHP
    No. 5 David Phelps, RHP/Michael Pineda, RHP


    Why the Yankees are No. 1

    Of course the Yankees top the list of suitors for Tanaka. Why wouldn't they? Because they want to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold? Please. They've already spent over $280 million on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran; how much money do they have left? Stop lying to yourself. 

    If ever there was a time for the Yankees to try and rebuild, it would have been during the disaster that was 2013. Instead, they have spent money to sign three of the best free agents available and re-signed Hiroki Kuroda. 

    Oh yeah, the Yankees will also save more than $20 million if Alex Rodriguez's suspension holds up after his appeal. 

    It's a dangerous combination, taking a desperate team with money to spend and a 25-year-old pitcher who earns rave reviews for his present stuff and upside in some circles. 

    There's no way the Yankees can't be No. 1, even if the Cubs are reportedly making a strong push. 


    What Tanaka offers Yankees

    Much like the Cubs, there isn't a lot to for the Yankees to be excited about when it comes to long-term pitching prospects. CC Sabathia had his worst season in professional baseball last year and isn't getting any younger. Kuroda had a 5.44 ERA in August and September. 

    Michael Pineda—remember him?—is on track to pitch in the big leagues this season, but does anyone trust him to do anything? Given how long he's been out with arm problems, is he going to throw more than 100-120 innings?

    Unlike the Cubs, the Yankees don't have much in the position-player pipeline to look forward to. Even their best prospects, like catcher Gary Sanchez, have serious question marks. That's one big reason they had to spend so much money on Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran. 

    The point being, no team needs Tanaka more than the Yankees. They are built to win now, but all of the star players they had under contract last season who return in 2014 are on the wrong side of 30.

    Tanaka may not be the piece that pushes New York past Boston in the American League East, but he certainly closes the talent gap that exists between the two powerhouse franchises. 


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