Odds On Tanaka And Why He’ll End Up With The Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka’s deadline to pick a team is Friday. In the past, the waiting game on Japanese players was based on whether the team that won the bidding would make a sufficient offer to sign the player. Limited as it was to a single team, the Japanese import had the options of either using the dull axe—which the team knew would never leave his belt—of going back to Japan, or making the best deal he could.

There was pressure on the team that won the bidding as well. After a month of promotion, ticket sales and hype, winning the bidding meant the player had to be signed.

With the new rules, Tanaka’s a pure free agent with the forgettable and meaningless deadline. The threat of him going back to Japan to play is less than zero. Because of that, instead of the manufactured drama of “will he or won’t he?!?” sign a contract in time, the speculation is where he’ll wind up.

You can log onto the schlock sites, sports news sites and clearinghouses and fall into their trap. Preying on the fans’ desperation for information about Tanaka, they’re trolling you with information that, at best, stretches even the most elastic boundaries of common sense. The sheeple are clamoring and clawing for a minuscule smidgen of news about Tanaka. For the rank-and-file fan rooting for teams out of the bidding, it’s a distraction in the cold winter. For fans of the teams that are in the running for the pitcher, they’re looking for validation as to why their team will get him and “win” the sweepstakes.

Ignoring all the ancillary nonsense, let’s look at the realistic odds based on what we actually know and not what’s planted to garner webhits with speculation, whispers and rumors from invisible sources that might not exist.

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

Initially, I thought the Yankees were one of the leading contenders, but not alone at the top of the list. In my estimation, they were even with the Mariners and Cubs. Now, however, the Yankees are the best bet to get Tanaka. In a similar fashion as the Yankees being seen as a darkhorse for Mark Teixeira while the Red Sox were the team with whom he was widely expected to sign, the Yankees dove in and got their man. With Tanaka, they don’t have much of a choice anymore. Their starting pitching is woefully short and in spite of the offense they’re going to get from the outfield additions Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, their infield is currently a series of aged question marks, journeymen and massive holes. The bullpen is a mess; the starting rotation is a roll of the dice. Tanaka won’t solve those problems if he solves any at all—no one knows how a Japanese player will transition—but they need him not just on the field but at the box office.

It’s unconscionable that the Yankees have had everything go their way in terms of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, that they received inconceivable salary relief in their goal to get below $189 million and they’re still probably not going to be able to do it. Since they’re near the limit and have those holes to fill, it no longer makes sense for them to put forth the pretense of getting below the limit at the cost of losing out on Tanaka and having a roster that’s equal to or worse than the one that won 85 games last season.

They don’t have any other options apart from pitchers they don’t want in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. They could trade Brett Gardner for a middling starter, but that’s not going to sell tickets for a fanbase looking at this team and wondering where they’re headed.

The Yankees have every reason to tell Tanaka’s representative Casey Close that if there’s an offer that surpasses theirs, to come back to them for a final offer to get their man.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers as the heavyweight champion of the world and didn’t have the tax collectors garnishing his salary to pay his debts, he purchased on whims based on his limitless bank account. One story detailed Tyson driving past a luxury car dealership and driving in with one luxury car to purchase another one. He did it because he felt like it, because he could.

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

Whether or not you believe the stories of Tanaka’s wife preferring the West Coast, if Tanaka signs with the Dodgers—or anyone—it will be because that’s the team that offered him the best deal. The Dodgers have locked up Clayton Kershaw and have Zack Greinke. If Tanaka’s anywhere close to as good as advertised, that top three is 1990s Braves-like, if not better. They have the money to spend and both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off the books after 2014. He’s not a need for them. If they sign him it’s because they wanted to. It’s as good a reason as any when dealing with a payroll whose limit appears to be nonexistent.

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

The Mariners haven’t been mentioned prominently in recent days, but there are numerous reasons not to count them out. They signed Robinson Cano, but the other “big” additions they made were Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. These were downgrading moves from Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales.

Other than Cano, what have they done to get significantly better from what they were in 2013? Tanaka will slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and be in front of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The injury to Danny Hultzen limits some of the Mariners’ vaunted pitching depth and they need another arm and another name to draw fans. Cano will spur some ticket sales and if they lose out on Tanaka, the fans might draw some slight enthusiasm from Garza, Santana or Jimenez, but not as much as they’d get from Tanaka. They could trade for David Price, but that would cost them Walker plus others.

No matter who they sign, the Mariners won’t have fans coming to the ballpark if they’re 20-30 after 50 games, Cano or no Cano. Tanaka would bring fans into the park and it’s a good situation for him.

There’s talk that the Mariners are close to the limit on their payroll and they need approval from ownership before spending more on the likes of Tanaka. If they don’t continue to add, the signing of Cano was done for show and little else.

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but it would be interesting if Cubs team president Theo Epstein goes all-in with Tanaka after his negative experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuild and Epstein is loading up on draft picks and international signings. Giving Tanaka the time to grow accustomed to North America with a team that’s not expected to contend could be good for him. If Epstein’s plans work, by the time Tanaka’s acclimated, the Cubs will be prepared to take a step forward with him at the front of their rotation.

The Cubs have done absolutely nothing at the big league level this off-season apart from that…unique…new mascot. Ownership, if not overtly meddling, is getting antsy. The Cubs’ attendance is declining and judging by the roster they’re putting out there as of now, that’s not going to change without a splash. Tanaka is that splash.

I doubt Epstein is going to go above and beyond what the other suitors offer while the Yankees will and the Dodgers might, making Tanaka landing with the Cubs unlikely.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

He’s not going to Arizona. They don’t have the money to match the other teams. Why they’re even putting on a front of going hard after Tanaka is bizarre. Never mind that he’s still an unknown, he’d immediately walk into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and be the highest paid player on their roster by almost $10 million per season. The expectations there would be far more intense than they’ll be in the other venues. It’s a silly idea.

By Friday, we’ll know where Tanaka’s going. But all logic and reality dictates that he’ll end up with the Yankees for $130 million-plus, for better or worse.




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  1. #1 by Aaron Sapoznik on January 20, 2014 - 3:33 am

    According to a report out of Japan from Nikkan Sports on 1-18, there were formal offers from 5 teams that were being considered by Tanaka. Those clubs included the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Diamondbacks. The report did not specifically indicate if anymore offers could or would be forthcoming from other clubs before the 1-24 deadline. They also did not state if the submitted offers were final or whether they could be further negotiated. With this information in mind, I was curious as to why you had the Mariners as your third most likely candidate at 6-1 odds and totally excluded the White Sox.

    • #2 by admin on January 20, 2014 - 2:55 pm

      In the opening paragraph I’m pretty much scoffing at all the rumors and innuendo out there passing for “information.” It’s not worth much, if anything at all. Even if the White Sox made an offer, the odds of him ending up with them are even less than him going to the Diamondbacks. Historically an old-school thinking team like the White Sox doesn’t sign Japanese players and they certainly aren’t going to give him what it’ll take to get him since the offer will have to blow away the Yankees and Dodgers. The Mariners are a good landing spot for him for multiple reasons including the success prior Japanese imports have had on and off the field and that they need him for both ticket sales and his arm. There are still four days left for Tanaka to make his decision. That’s plenty of time for teams to formulate a competitive offer and sign him even if the Japanese report is accurate.

      • #3 by Aaron Sapoznik on January 21, 2014 - 5:13 am

        The White Sox have had success with Japanese players in the recent past. Shingo Takatsu (Mr. Zero) was signed by the White Sox in 2004 and became their primary closer that season. He started the 2005 championship season in the Sox bullpen, but was innefective. He was demoted to the minors and the club released him in August. While Takatsu struggled with the Sox in 2005, another Japanese player thrived on that same championship team. Tadahito Iguchi was signed by the Sox prior to the 2005 season and became their second baseman. Many in Chicago considered him the team MVP that season, not only for the stability he provided defensively paired with a young and erratic Juan Uribe at SS, but also as the glue to their lineup that season as a selfless #2 hitter.

  2. #4 by Aaron Sapoznik on January 21, 2014 - 5:17 am

    In any case, I still believe Tanaka will choose the L.A. Dodgers, despite the fact I am a Chicago baseball fan and would love to see him pitch for the Cubs or White Sox. It makes too much sense for him not to go to the Dodgers. They are already one of the preseason favorites to represent the National League in the 2014 World Series. Tanaka wouldn’t have the added pressure of being an immediate #1 in the starting rotation…he would fit nicely as a #3 in L.A. behind Kershaw and Greinke. And outside of Hawaii, the L.A. area offers communities with the highest population of Japanese Americans in the U.S., which only adds to his comfort level. He would also be pitching half his games in a favorable park compared to those in Chicago and the Bronx. There would be less media pressure in the L.A. market than in N.Y…and better, more consistent weather conditions throughout the season than the other markets being mentioned as finalists. Unless some other team significantly ups the ante, it makes the most sense for him to be a Dodger.

    • #5 by admin on January 22, 2014 - 2:39 am

      The White Sox are a team that spends money, but going to $120 million for Tanaka? I just don’t see it.
      You bring up good points RE the Dodgers. All are valid. I just think it’s going to come down to money and desperation. Two things the Yankees have plenty of. It’ll be a mistake if they go over the $189 million because with or without Tanaka, they’re still not much better than they were last season. But they have to sell tickets and Tanaka will help them do that. In truth, all they’re doing is speeding their decline similar to the one they suffered in the late 1960s.

      • #6 by Aaron Sapoznik on January 22, 2014 - 5:28 pm

        “Unless some other team significantly ups the ante, it makes the most sense for him to be a Dodger.” Clearly, that has occurred…and to no one’s surprise…it was the Yankees! As you suggested, they were the team, at least in the short term, who were most in need of his services…and they “stepped up to the plate”. Congrats to the Bronx Bombers, Casey Close and especially Masahiro Tanaka for, once again, fulfilling ancient Western proverb, “$$$$ talks and !@#& walks”…

  3. #7 by Aaron Sapoznik on January 21, 2014 - 5:23 am

    As of this post, it still doesn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners are in the running for Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma were actually teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League before the latter signed on with the Seattle Mariners. If the Mariners were among the finalists for Tanaka’s services, that could have been a factor in his decision making process. How formidable of a rotation would that have been, along with ace Felix Hernandez and top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

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