After several weeks of speculation, the Rakuten Golden Eagles finally decided to post pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The 25-year-old pitcher has long been coveted by major league teams, but after the newly agreed upon posting system, it wasn’t known if he’d be made available this off-season.
With only the team that signs him only responsible for the $20 million release fee, all 30 teams can now directly negotiate with Tanaka and his agent, Casey Close. Two of Close’s clients happen to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but he also represents Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira from the New York Yankees.
Thus far this off-season the Dodgers have plugged their holes. They brought back Juan Uribe to play third base, filled Ricky Nolasco’s spot in the rotation with Dan Haren while adding two relievers after re-signing Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell. While Robinson Cano was talked about for half a second, the Dodgers haven’t made their signature move of the winter.
Which brings us to Tanaka.
Last season, he led his team to the Japan Series championship, going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 5.72 K/BB rate. Seen as the top starter on the market, his posting has held up the markets for other high profile pitchers, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo.
Where the Dodgers fit in with Tanaka is their need for another starter and their strong emphasis on finding international talent. With Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alexander Guerrero already in the fold, adding Tanaka to the mix seems like a natural decision.
Teams like the Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and possibly several others are seen as strong contenders for Tanaka’s services as an intense bidding war is likely to take place.
However, there’s a reason for the Dodgers not to enter a bidding war: contract extensions for Hanley Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw loom. The two All-Stars have both engaged in talks with the Dodgers, but nothing has come to fruition, yet. Ramirez hinted at a possible extension earlier this month while Kershaw and the organization talked extension twice during last season.
The Dodgers also have pitching prospects at the minor league level that could be ready to pitch in Ross Stripling and Zach Lee while Julio Urias seems like he’s a year or so away. President Stan Kasten has said repeatedly that the Dodgers are in “Phase 2” of building the team, which means they want to keep their top prospects.
Without Tanaka, the Dodgers would have three starting pitchers for next season, granted they decline the option on Chad Billingsley’s contract. Signing Tanaka gives them four starters locked in long-term, granted Kershaw extends his time in LA. The fifth spot is then to be filled by Lee or Stripling, who could also see time this season due to injuries.
Also, signing Tanaka would make things cloudy for Billingsley and Josh Beckett for next season since there would be seven starting pitchers for five spots. The 29-year-old starter underwent Tommy John surgery early last season and GM Ned Colletti said a few days ago that he’s likely to return in June. Meanwhile, Beckett is entering the last year of his contract and also underwent TOS surgery after his 2013 season was one to forget as he went 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA.
While the Dodgers are saying the right things about Beckett, who should be ready to go for Spring Training, his status shouldn’t weigh into their decision about signing Tanaka or not.
All in all, the Dodgers are in a position where adding Tanaka would give them three top of the rotation starters and set the top of their rotation for years to come. Yes they want to develop talent from within, but at just 25 years old and not even the prime of his pitching career, spending the $100-$120 million for Tanaka makes too much sense.
Coupled together with his reported interest to pitch on the West Coast and it sounds like the Dodgers and Tanaka are a perfect match. Go get him, Ned.
ICYMI: The Dodgers and Chris Perez agreed to a one-year deal earlier this week