Over the holidays, the Rakuten Golden Eagles decided to troll Major League Baseball teams.
If you're going to hose us on the new posting-fee cap, at least we can make a bunch of front-office dorks hang out in the backyards of their in-laws, pacing, shivering, and yelling things into a cell phone.
The news that Masahiro Tanaka was going to be posted came in late on Christmas Eve. That's amusing and probably coincidental. I'd like to think there was some spite behind it, though. It's the poet and/or jerk in me.
After a long, stagnant offseason for pitchers, the biggest prize is officially on the market. Tanaka will be a major-league pitcher next year. He will be well-compensated. The last time we checked in with Tanaka, the rules were still undecided, and it seemed quite possible he would stay with the Golden Eagles. But if he were the subject of a bidding war, I surmised the Dodgers were the favorites for his services, followed by the Dodgers and the Dodgers. The Yankees were next, and there was a huge gap between them and the next team.
That hasn't changed. The Dodgers' offseason plan, it seems from afar, has been to wait for Tanaka. They didn't want to gut the minors for David Price, even if they were willing to do so. They preferred to out-rich the other rich teams. Which they're going to do now. The Yankees were going to be the only competition, but that was when it seemed like it would take an $80 million posting fee that wouldn't count toward the luxury-tax threshold. Now a big salary would ding the Yankees, and they don't seem too interested in that.
Nope, it's the Dodgers. Think of a time they wanted a player under the new ownership and didn't get him. Eventually it will happen. Let's wait for the first time to predict the next time. It's as obvious as Tim Lincecum going to the Seattle Mariners for big money because he's from Washington, you know.
That's who will get Tanaka. A more interesting question might be who could use Tanaka the most. The Dodgers don't need Tanaka. They're just gluttonous creeps. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. I wish my team were gluttonous creeps when it came to free agents. But if it's an issue of need, the Dodgers already have three pitchers who would start on Opening Day for most teams.
A list of other reported suitors:
But, obviously, there are a lot more teams that could use him. The Orioles, for example. The Pirates would love to have him. I don't know where the Giants would fit Tanaka into the rotation, but he'd most likely make them a lot better. Still, let's start with the known suitors before looking for the surprise picks.
The Yankees could certainly use another starting pitcher. CC Sabathia isn't guaranteed to rebound, especially considering his velocity dip, and that the ostensible fourth starter (David Phelps) is coming off a disappointing year, and the ostensible fifth starter (Michael Pineda) is coming off major shoulder surgery. If it's an issue of need, the Yankees have it.
The Cubs would be most interested in the buzz of the signing, as well as the relative youth of Tanaka fitting into their five-year plan better than other premium free agents. The Angels have a lot of money tied up in win-now hitting, but the rotation is something of a Costner movie. There's a need.
The Rangers are erring on the side of gluttonous, but I'm not sure if they have the pronounced need in the rotation, so they're out. The Diamondbacks have a full rotation and a stable of pitching prospects, so they're out. And even though the Mariners seem like a good fit, with a history of successful NPB transitions and a desire to win in 2014, that doesn't seem like a team needing to spend on starting pitching.
So it's the Yankees. Of all the teams in the land, I feel comfortable with the Yankees having the biggest need for a young, supposed-ace type.
Except, let me throw out another team. Just spitballin'. They were briefly linked to Tanaka when the rumors were flying about the new posting system, but not since. The Houston Astros have Mark Appel in the system right now, and he might be in the rotation next year. They have young pitchers of note like Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart. And unless something horrible happens, the Astros will also have Carlos Rodon. That's a good foundation with enviable upside.
They recently signed the respectable Scott Feldman, but their payroll is still low enough to get fans (and the Players Association) grumbling. What they could use is a young star, someone to excite the ticket-buying and television-watching base, someone to pull them out of the doldrums and Tonight Show monologues. Preferably this would be a pitcher in his prime, young enough not to mess up their plans to build a super-rotation of the future.
That is, Tanaka.
Chances of it happening? Less than one percent, I'd guess. But if you're looking for teams that can bid the Dodgers up, maybe the rich teams are a bad place to start. No one's going to out-rich the Dodgers, not until the Yankees shed some old payroll. No, look for the teams that have hardly any future commitments in place. That's how the Mariners stunned the world with Cano. The Astros have a couple arbitration years for Dexter Fowler coming up. They have the Scott Feldman deal (three years, $30 million). They have Jose Altuve locked up through 2017 for a total of around $12 million.
Other than that? Nothing. Other than a handful of arbitration cases for the players they'd like to keep, the Astros are delightfully unencumbered. There aren't going to be a lot of other young stars on the market like this. There rarely are. If you're looking for a prediction, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a good fit? The Yankees need Tanaka more than the other teams chasing him, but perhaps the Astros could use him more effectively than the rest of the field.
Now let's get a pool going as to the exact date the Dodgers sign Tanaka. I'm going with January 14.