Masahiro Tanaka rumors: Athletics a dark horse for Japanese ace

Koji Watanabe

The Athletics have money to spend in the coming years. However, they may not have enough of a need to risk outbidding others for Tanaka.

At least one baseball executive believes that the Oakland Athletics are a strong candidate to sign Masahiro Tanaka, reports Bill Madden of the New York Daily News.

"Watch out for Oakland," the executive told the Daily News. "They’ve got as much money as any team and they like doing these big international things."

Oakland has made pushes for big-name imports, signing Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year deal prior to the 2012 season and falling just short to the Reds in the race for Aroldis Chapman. Last year, the team also signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a contract worth $6.5 million for two years.

Tanaka is a whole different beast compared to those players, however. With the signing team only required to pay $20 million to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his contract will likely be one of the largest signed this offseason. Most are projecting Tanaka to receive over $100 million on his contract.

Oakland has gone as high as $79 million on their payroll in the last decade, but were around $62 million last season. The team has very little guaranteed contracts moving forward, with $43.6 million currently owed in player contracts next season to seven players. After the 2014 season, only Cespedes and Scott Kazmir have any guaranteed money remaining. Cespedes is owed $10.5 million in 2015 while Kazmir will be in the final year of a two-year, $22 million deal signed this offseason. Thus, the team has plenty of flexibility to work in a major deal to Tanaka.

What the Athletics do not have, however, is a desperate need for another pitcher. While Tanaka could help put the team's starting staff among the league's elite. Oakland's signing of Kazmir gives them a deep rotation already as he joins Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. The team also has Tommy Milone and Drew Pomeranz to give them depth.

Because of that pitching depth, the Athletics may not want to take the risk in a huge deal for Tanaka. Though he has posted incredible numbers in Japan -- including a 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP while averaging nearly eight innings per start in 2013 -- there is no guarantee a Japanese player excels in Major League Baseball. If, however, the Athletics do covet him, they could ship another member of their starting rotation in a trade to acquire someone that may fill another hole on the roster.

The Athletics will also have to compete with some heavy hitters in the race for Tanaka. The Cubs and Yankees both see him as critical in their offseason plans. The Mariners have been viewed as the favorite to land the pitcher and have had a strong connection to Japan. They also have been willing to spend this offseason and want to make a big push towards contending. The Dodgers and Rangers have also had interest in acquiring Tanaka, among others.

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