MLB: Could the Philadelphia Phillies Be a Potential Player for Masahiro Tanaka?

Pete Dymeck@PeteDymeckAnalyst IDecember 26, 2013

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 12:  Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka # 17 of Japan pitches in the fifth inning during the World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1 game between Japan and the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome on March 12, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. is now backpedalling from his recent days of wheeling and dealing, where he threw Ryan Howard a bag of money valued at $125 million and another $50 million for Jonathan Papelbon.

However, the Phillies GM insists the team can compete, but to do so the organization must spend their money more "wisely" and "intelligently."

All indicators point to the Phillies being finished spending money other than adding a cost-effective piece here or there.

Even with a new television deal that could potentially fetch the organization $150 million or more annually, Amaro Jr. seems certain to lay low with the posting of Japanese superstar pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

With Philadelphia's projected 2014 payroll, the team is set to be "$25 million to $30 million under the luxury-tax threshold." Therefore, the Phillies are forecast to have a payroll hovering around the same $168 million range as last season.

One thing Amaro Jr. does get right is when he declares:

"Why would you spend money that you think is going to be money not well-spent? That's the important part. With the way the market is set up right now, I'm not real comfortable with going the extra mile with some of the guys that are out there still that may improve us a little bit, but in the long run may be detrimental to us."

Unfortunately, he should have thought about that several years ago. 

Contracts such as Howard's and Papelbon's are nothing but detrimental to the Phillies. Without digressing too much, Amaro hit the nail on the head with his statement, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Tanaka is a different story though.

At 24 years old, the Japanese righty posted a 24-0 record with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He pitched 212 innings in 28 games, which is comparable to Cole Hamels (220 IP in 33 games).

Since the age of 18, Tanaka has averaged 188 IP per season.

Similarly, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez debuted at age 19, but his first full season didn't come until the next season. In his first full seven seasons, he averaged 219 IP annually.

Of course, Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in the modern era.

Attributing comparisons between he and Tanaka is unfair, but to suggest Tanaka may be overworked is sensationalism at best. As evident in this crude comparison, Tanaka has seen less innings pitched annually between the ages of 18 through 24 than Hernandez between the ages of 20 through 26.

No one knows if Tanaka is as special as King Felix though.

On the flip side, Tanaka has some red flags.

Of course, the number of innings pitched since turning 18 is of concern, but the red flag itself could be over-assessed. More importantly, Tanaka's strikeout rate per nine innings pitched has declined each of the last two seasons since peaking at 9.6 SO/9 in 2011. 

Tanaka's SO/9 rate of 7.8 in 2013 is very good, but it places him in the same range as C.J. Wilson (7.97) and Felix Doubrount (7.71). That isn't impressive for someone pegged to earn more than $100 million.

The $20 million posting fee which must be paid before any Major League club can negotiate with the righty isn't anything compared to what he will earn contract-wise. However, the high risk and high reward with Tanaka is something that shouldn't be taken lightly.

If Amaro Jr. is serious about spending the team's money more prudently, one must think he is not waging a battle plan to land Tanaka. Truth be told, the Phillies have yet to be seriously linked to the righty.

On the other hand, the plan for the rotation does not look very promising either.

Jonathan Pettibone is a near lock to get a rotation spot after pitching decently last season. This leaves two spots for Roberto Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick and the virtually unknown Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

Without much wiggle room to add another arm to the starting rotation, it's more likely than not that Amaro Jr. watches the Tanaka race from the sidelines.

This will be the second consecutive offseason where the Phillies GM has failed to make a splash.

It's possible Amaro is snake-bitten from his most recent mistake of signing Papelbon. His reluctance to aggressively pursue the top free agent arms this winter is another indicator of what to expect with the Phillies and Tanaka.


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