The Daily Tanaka: Cubs in the Mix, Mariners Could Be Favorites for Tanaka

The Tanaka Sweepstakes is expected to kick into high gear next week when his agent, Casey Close, returns from vacation. Even with Close not yet open for business to discuss Tanaka with teams, the rumors picked back up on Thursday about where Masahiro Tanaka could end up signing. And two different reports pointed to the Mariners as possibly passing the Yankees and Cubs as the favorites to sign Masahiro Tanaka.

Jayson Stark reported early in the day that while it is early in the process, he is hearing constantly from interested teams to “watch out for the Mariners.” Stark added that executives think Seattle has “one big move left.”

Baseball America’s Ben Badler ranked the 10 teams he feels has the best shot at signing Masahiro Tanaka, and the Mariners were number one on his list with the Cubs coming in fourth behind the Mariners, Yankees and Dodgers.

The Mariners have been thought as big players for Masahiro Tanaka from the beginning. Seattle has the money and the need to win ballgames sooner rather than later. Tanaka would be reunited with his former Golden Eagles teammate, Hisashi Iwakuma. And a top three of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Tanaka in the Mariners’ rotation would look very good on paper. But would Tanaka be willing to be slotted in behind Hernandez and Iwakuma in the Mariners’ rotation. Plus reports from Japan have suggested Tanaka would want to be seen as the staff ace on his new team and he might not want to pitch behind Iwakuma again after spending the first five seasons of his career (2007-2011) in Iwakuma’s shadow.

Ben Badler provided an excellent rundown of the teams he sees as the most likely to end up signing Tanaka. Badler classified the Angels, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Rangers as “lurkers” and the Tigers as the “sleeper” team. Detroit could use Tanaka in their rotation beyond the 2014 season, especially if Max Scherzer leaves via free agency. Badler’s reasons for including Detroit are similar to those reported by Nick Cafardo as to why the Red Sox should not be counted out in the Tanaka Derby.

The Cubs are listed as one of the “heavyweights” for Tanaka. Badler pointed out the Cubs might be willing to pay for one or two seasons of Tanaka before the team is ready to contend due to the perceived lack of pitching in the system. The Cubs have scouted Tanaka and “have the financial resources to bring him to Chicago” according to the report.

While Ben Badler sees the Angels as a lurker, Jerry Dipoto is looking to add another starting pitcher and is interested in signing Masahiro Tanaka. And the Diamondbacks “cannot be ruled out as major players” for Tanaka according to Ken Rosenthal. The D-Backs will not make a trip to Japan to talk to Tanaka, as previously reported, because Casey Close is “discouraging such visits.”

Masahiro Tanaka Comps

FanGraphs broke down possible comps for Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday. Dave Cameron suggested “there’s a pretty decent chance” that Tanaka will end up costing more than six years and $140 million (including the release fee) and he could end up signing a contract “in the range” of Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.

Masahiro Tanaka does not project as a true big league ace. Tanaka is seen as a top of the rotation starter on a very good staff, but not the ace that he is in Japan. Cameron reported “his strengths are going to be throwing strikes and getting ground balls, with enough strikeouts on his splitter to make the overall package successful.” Cameron pointed out there “are very good pitchers who fit that description” so he compiled a list of pitchers with a similar skillset and how they have performed over the last three years.

With a minimum of 450 innings pitched from 2011-2013, a BB% between 5-9%, a K% between 18-24% and a GB% between 46-54%, 14 pitchers met his criteria. The pitchers at the top of his list includes James Shields, David Price, Cole Hamels, Hiroki Kuroda and Zack Greinke while the bottom five on his list includes Ivan Nova, Wandy Rodriguez, Yovani Gallardo, Jon Niese and Edwin Jackson. Cameron pointed out both Edwin Jackson and Jon Niese “have given up too many hits on balls in play” while Rodriguez and Gallardo have struggled with the home run ball.

If Masahiro Tanaka performs to the average of the group in Cameron’s report, he could end up as “an above average” pitcher.

The Masahiro Tanaka news, rumors and speculation will increase next week and should continue right up until he signs a contract on Jan. 24.

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