When the new posting process for Japanese players became official, I explained why I think Tanaka is “cheaper” for some teams nearer to the luxury tax threshold than the D-backs, and why I thought Arizona’s chances for landing him are low.  Now that Tanaka has been posted, I thought I might discuss a few other dynamics in place that make it unlikely for Arizona to sign him.

I won’t repeat the analysis from a few weeks ago on why posting dollars are “cheaper” to teams near or over the luxury tax threshold, so head back to that last post if you don’t believe me.  One conclusion I reached in that post, however, was that even though the new cap for the posting fee limits the effect of posting dollars being “cheaper” for some teams, it doesn’t eliminate that discrepancy as a factor entirely.

The D-backs organization has decided that it has a need for Tanaka or someone like him, but that does not mean that another team’s need for him is not more pronounced.  Add to that the existence of some teams who have quite a bit more money to spend than Arizona, and some teams more greatly affected by the luxury tax issues — and I’d put Arizona’s chances of landing him at about 3%.

Chicago Cubs – 55% 

Name the last time that a player who looked like he was likely to be well above average hit free agency at the age of 25.  Give up?  I don’t blame you — I couldn’t find one either.  Having just turned 25 on November 1st, Tanaka will pitch all of next season at that age.  Even Bryce Harper, who got a GED in high school to enroll at JuCo and enter the draft early, will play under his first free agency contract no younger than 26.

We’ve never seen a player with proven skills hit the market like this, not in the modern era.  It’s entirely possible that we’ll be floored by the contract Tanaka eventually receives.  If the Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish contracts are any guide, it’s not likely that the Tanaka contract will be for less than 6 years — and given his age, we might find teams comfortable going longer than that.  A 7-year contract would be completed by a 31-year-old Tanaka, after all.  Ervin Santana will pitch the first season of his new contract at age 31, and both Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza will be 30 next season.  The theory goes with that trio of pitchers that one might have to pay for several seasons to get some of their “prime” seasons over the next 2-3 years — to get all “prime” seasons from Tanaka, one might do well to sign him to an 8-year contract.

Consider the situation of the Chicago Cubs.  After three seasons with payrolls above $134M in 2009-2011, the Cubs committed to a rebuilding cycle, settling back down under $110M for the last two seasons.  They have money to spend, but no reason to spend it on the 2014 version of the team.  2015 may spell the beginning of their turnaround, but it’s only 2016 and beyond that their good young players may be contributing to the major league club in a meaningful way.  Now consider that of those good young players, almost all are position player prospects.

Add to that Theo Epstein’s comment from early November: “We wish there was a free agent market for young players.”

It could be that no matter what, Tanaka will have a bit of a transition period to deal with, as did Yu Darvish.  It could be, then, that when he hits his stride in 2015, he’s doing so with the Chicago Cubs.

New York Yankees – 25%

Perhaps Tanaka is a better fit for the Cubs than for any other team — but the Yankees’ need for Tanaka might be the greatest in the land.  New York’s rotation issues are profound.  Beyond a declining CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who agreed to give the Yankees one more year, they have the somewhat underrated Ivan Nova, slot filler David Phelps, and maybe Michael Pineda, who was great before shoulder surgery, but who is returning from… shoulder surgery.  In the minors, most possibilities are either recovering from injury or recently returned from one.

Also — they’re the Yankees.  Yes, they’ve been flirting with the recently-raised luxury tax threshold, but unless the luxury tax threshold is completely turning them off from spending money in general, Tanaka might still fit them.  Assuming that the total price for Tanaka will be as much as teams can fathom paying him (and that total years won’t be a big factor), the posting fee is part of Tanaka’s price — and so Tanaka’s salary may be a bit lower than it might have been if he were a true free agent.  In that event, we’re back to the effect of posting dollars.  And as I wrote a few weeks ago:

 Compare the position of the Yankees, then, to the position of the Diamondbacks.  Both teams walk into a local store that sells batting practice balls.  Neither team really needsnew batting practice balls, and there are other stores that sell them.  Some of the balls are available for $10 per ball, to any buyer (these are the balls analogous to Tanaka’s salary).  To get all of the balls, though, you have to buy a set of additional balls (the balls analogous to the posting fee), and the price changes — they cost $7 for the Yankees but $10 for the Diamondbacks.  The store decides all of the balls have to be sold to one party.  Since the balls are cheaper, overall, for the Yankees, it’s more likely that the Yankees will view the overall sale price as a good deal.  Now consider that the Yankees have a lot more money — dollars are not as precious to them.  Since they have more money, they might have paid even more for the balls than the Diamondbacks are willing to pay — but they only have to pay less.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the Cubs landing Tanaka.  But if the Cubs were not in the running, I’d take the Yankees over the field.

Seattle Mariners – 5%

After the Cubs and Yankees, I think other teams’ chances of landing Tanaka are so low that Seattle’s “wild card” factor makes them the next-most-likely team.  Maybe the Seattle organization disagrees with the perspective of outsiders that the Robinson Cano signing still has them falling short of the playoffs by a fair margin — but maybe they do agree, and maybe, if they agree, they’re willing to bid as wildly as they did in the Cano sweepstakes.  Seattle has never been burned by an investment in a Japanese player before, unless you count Kenji Johjima (I don’t).  There’s value in laying claim to a new cross-section of baseball fans in Japan, too.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 3%

We know they have the money, and we know that the Dodgers are as likely to derive benefit from the non-luxury-taxable $20M posting fee as any other team.  With Zach Lee in the wings, though, they aren’t exactly banking on a full recovery from Josh Beckett, and the recently-signed Dan Haren will have some rope to work with.  There isn’t much “need” here, and the Dodgers learned just a year ago that hoarding starting pitching doesn’t necessarily make it easy to trade the excess for other helpful pieces.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 3%

Even after adding two starters in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, the Angels still have a boatload invested in their club on the position player side, and not enough strong pitching to carry the load.  If they sign Mike Trout long term, then their situation will not change much for quite some time.  If they do not, however, that gives them a four (Trout departure) or three (Weaver departure) year window to win.  With Jared Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Santiago and Skaggs all under control for at least three more seasons, the Angels might have enough — but with no minor league pitching to speak of, the Angels could be inclined to avoid rolling those dice (after all, if Skaggs were a sure thing, he’d never be gettable has half the price for Mark Trumbo).

Arizona Diamondbacks – 3%

I think the D-backs’ pursuit of Tanaka is a little unrealistic — but the club’s pursuit of Trumbo was unrealistic, too, in similar ways.  Towers and maybe ownership are clearly zeroed in on 2014, and clearly zeroed in on Tanaka as the best of the pitcher options available.  I cannot and will not count them out of this race, and because of Tanaka’s age, an investment in Tanaka would likely be embraced from all corners of D-backs Nation.

The Field – 6%

Some team could always come out of nowhere.  It could be the Red Sox — they placed a high premium on building a fan base in Japan when the same ownership group bid for Matsuzaka.  My guess is the number of teams to submit $20M posting bids could be anywhere between 5 and 15.  And this is still essentially free agency.  Tanaka has until January 24th to make a decision, and he could pick the best offer, or he could pick the best short offer, or best long offer, or just the team he liked visiting with the most.  Again, I do think that the Cubs and Yankees should be greatly favored to sign Tanaka — but anything could happen over the next 29 days, and the D-backs will be among the other teams to have other offseason plans frozen until Tanaka chooses his own destiny.

 

46 Responses to Masahiro Tanaka Posted, But Don’t Bet on Arizona

  1. […] for the Japanese right-hander. Ryan Morrison at insidethezona lists (which you can check out here) the probability of teams being able to sign Tanaka with the D’backs on the lower end of the […]

  2. Eddie says:

    I’ve heard they’re willing to go 5/100, which would certainly put them in the mix. I don’t think he’ll sign here either, but it’s incredible to hear the Dbacks linked to a FA of that stature (and willing to offer THAT kind of money). It’s the kind of ploy that actually makes a tremendous amount of sense for Arizona. It DOES need to get more involved in international markets for baseball and it has lacked a presence in East Asia (apart from Kim, and remember Saito, anyone?)for much of its history. I hope they make a competitive offer and I think they will.

  3. Kaz says:

    Interesting analysis. I’ve read similar articles by other reporters but all of you seem to forget to include the “Japanese” cultural factor. It’s a very difficult move culturally. It helps if there is a Japanese population in that city for the player’s kids to attend a Japanese school, for the spouse to interact with other Japanese, and for there to be good and plentiful access to Japanese food. There is a major reason why Japanese players want to go to the biggest cities like LA, NY, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and to some degree, Chicago. I say to some degree for Chicago, because they’ve been losing for over 100 years and no one really wants to go there however nice the city is. If you include the cultural factor as well as the financial one into your analysis of MLB team needs, the NYY and LAD and possibly the LAA would be favorites. Seattle doesn’t look like a winner so why go there? Arizona has never been a top destination for Japanese (tourist or otherwise) either.

  4. PL78 says:

    I like the Astros as a dark horse actually. They have no money at all tied up, and so many blue chip position prospects it will be impossible to mess it up. They are actually a little short on pitching, which they will remedy with Rodon in the draft, but monetarily, they could give Tankaka a 10/200 deal and not even handcuff themselves in the process, as their blue chippers havent even sniffed the majors yet. But when they do, they will be contenders.

    As opposed to the Yankees just buying everyone, including injury-prone stars on the decline, the Astros could be a force in the game as soon as 2016, with Tanaka, Cosart, Oberholtzer, Appel & Rodon leading the rotation and Correa, Singleton, Springer, Altuve, Castro, Villar, Carter and the like leading the offense. There’s a whole lot to sell Tanaka on in Houston.

    • John says:

      The Astros a force? What are u smoking. They were one of the worst franchises in all of sports

      • Joel says:

        What an ignorant comment. The Astros have one of the top farm systems in baseball. 6 of their farm teams made the playoffs last year. Not all of those players will end up in the bigleagues, but only a short sighted casual fan would be laughing at the Astros now. When the Rangers, Angels, and maybe even the Mariners end up with bloated payrolls and aging players, the Astros will be hitting on all cylinders.

      • Anonymous says:

        He said “could be a force”. The Astros have so many amazing prospects that some of them have to pan out. They are going through a complete rebuild and imo are doing it perfectly. In a few years they are going to have the best young core in baseball. That could be a huge incentive for Tanaka. As long as the Astros are patient with their young guys they will be a huge force in the AL.

    • L.Pasteur says:

      Even if the Astros offered the most amount of money, there is no way he would go there because they are years away from competing in the WS, let alone even making the playoffs in the double WC system. Have you even taken a look at the AL West? Texas, Anaheim, Oakland Seattle. Those are the teams they have to leap frog.

      Tanaka isn’t coming from the Japan to play for a losing team.

  5. DJ says:

    A team I wouldn’t count out is the Reds. They have been very quiet this off season and I remember back when Chapman was out there. Never were the reds mentioned in any of the Chapman talks, and they do have the means to sign him.

  6. Rick says:

    A dark horse would be the White Sox. They are “rebuilding” and have money to spend – they shed Peavy, Rios, Crain & Thornton’s contracts plus have Dunn’s salary coming off the books after this year. Adding him to a pitching staff with Sale, Quintana, Rienzo & Johnson would give them 5 guys in the rotation around the age 25. They can use Danks as trade bait (Toronto, NYY or any other team who loses out on Tanaka, Arroyo, Garza, etc…).

    • Rick says:

      ….Trading Danks would free up even more money. I know some of that money I mentioned above went towards Abreu but they still have money to spend. Even Konerko took basically a $9.5 million paycut from last year. Plus the Sox would need a pitcher like Tanaka caliber if Sale ever goes down with an injury for a long period of time. Chicago has had Japanese players play for them in the past – Shingo Takatsu & Tadihito Iguchi. Maybe they can “sell” Tanaka to come play for them.

      • jptopdog says:

        You can rule out the White Sox, as penny pincher Reinsdorf never spends on top wanted players, or draft picks(won’t even consider dealing with Boras). Even with the 3rd pick in this years draft you know Sox will take someone you never heard of, because of “signability”. Sox have 0% chance, and will be worse in 2014!

        • Mike says:

          You mean Reinsdorf, the owner of the team whose club has had the 8th, 11th, 5th, and 7th highest payroll the last four years?

  7. Edgar4Evar says:

    First off, A-Rod was the best FA ever to hit the market when he became an FA at 25. He should have been the MVP that year, played a premium position, and had no off-field issues. I doubt we see a free agent that perfect ever hit the market again under the current system. Teams are locking those players up early nowadays.

    As for the Tanaka race, don’t see how the Cubs rate as favorites here. They have significant salary commitments with little improvement in the offseason to justify counting them contenders. I think the Yankees and Mariners are the favorites. The Yankees are the Yankees. But they are also more cost-conscious. Seattle has the payroll room, even with the Cano contract. They have a history of being a positive place for Japanese players to play. The ownership may be inclined to go “all out” for Tanaka and spend more on him than they would for other players. They did so for Ichiro, for example.

    The only thing the Cubs offer is money, and I think the M’s could make the high bid for Tanaka.

    • Anonymous says:

      And what salary commitments do the Cubs have? They have some of the greatest payroll flexibility in all the sport. They’ve improved at the margins this year with the possible intention to make a big move like this. Throw in a top 5 farm system a committed owner, & one of the best front offices in MLB, and they’ll be contenders for the majority of that contract.

  8. bob rittner says:

    Alex Rodriguez signed a free agent contract with Texas when he was 25 years old.

  9. Cannonball says:

    Reports have said he prefers the West Coast:
    http://www.dodgersnation.com/mlb-news-masahiro-tanaka-reportedly-prefers-to-pitch-on-west-coast/2013/12/18

    Could be a tactic, but those teams are being way underestimated here.
    Another clue perhaps – the agent he chose (Casey Close) represents Jeter, Kershaw & Greinke. It will come down to how he prioritizes money vs culture/comfort vs playoff chances.
    So LAD, NYY, SEA, LAA, CHI, AZ, field.

  10. Docmilo says:

    The one thing Seattle has that other teams do not is Iwakuma. Kuma pitched 4 or 5 years in Rakuten with Tanaka. Familiarity would be ideal to help the young kid’s transition into MLB.

    Seattle has an excellent reputation for Japanese players and like Chicago they have an extremely young core of players in Felix, Seager, Zunino, Miller, Franklin, Ackley, Saunders, Walker, Paxton and Ramirez to name a few. Add that young core to Cano and additions in Hart and Morrison along with the minor league system and this team is ready to compete now and in 2015 like the Cubs.

    Seattle should be the hands on favorite.

    • Kevin says:

      you are right. seattle has been through the hype with ichiro, when 100′s of japanese media were accommodated daily. not sure if they still have the HGK (japanese TV feed) contract for all their games, but they will if tanaka comes. they can offer him things others cannot: proximity to japan, familiar teammate (kuma), personal translator (i think ichiro’s old guy is still around), japanese ownership (still 55%)and even a chance to win (don’t underestimate the value of adding a stud starter to mariners rotation without giving up walker or paxton). they have money to spend and a reason to do it. (btw, iwakuma most underrated pitcher in mlb.)

    • Anonymous says:

      No one wants to play in Seattle unless they greatly overpay like they did for cano. If he wants to be irrelevant then he should goto Seattle. Plenty of teams have Japanese players. The Yankees have Kuroda and ichiro. Not sure of your point maybe just wishful thinking. Personally I would rather take garza and Jimenez

    • Matt says:

      By that way of thinking since Yu Darvish has been a work partner for Tanaka the last 4 years He would want to signwith His team.

  11. RRC says:

    Yu Darvish was 25. Teams knew what the price was and what they would have to beat to sign him. So I’d put him in the similar position… And he was/is better. Tanaka is NOT proven.

    • Kevin says:

      WBC tested, but yes, a huge risk. however, even “average” japanese pitchers (nomo, irabu, et al) had 1-2-3 very good years…about par of a MLB pitcher over a 10 year span). btw, check iwakuma’s stats since he got here. be nice to have him filling in tanaka about the league, in japanese.

  12. Kevin says:

    1. Felix 20 wins
    2. Tanaka 18
    3. Iwakuma 18
    4. Walker 14
    5. Paxton 13

    thats 83 wins; not bad. figure 10 more from the pen, and 93 might be enough to win the west, where parity is the new normal.

    • Realist says:

      Here is a more realistic projection not from a homer who actually thinks that worthless team has any chance.
      1. Felix 14-10 2.5 era
      2. Tanaka (not going to trash team that has no chance of winning)
      3.iki 12-13 4 era (regression)
      4. 2 rookies 12-18 4 era.

      Enjoy wining 70 games buddy. But hey at least you live in seatle. Oh wait… :(

  13. Joe says:

    No one in their right mind would want to play in Seattle. Unless all you care about is money like cano. That franchise hasn’t been relevant in over a decade. If he wants to goto a crappy franchise then he should goto Seattle if not than somewhere else. My guess is Yankees. They will overpay, are a winning franchise and a huge market.

  14. John says:

    Agree that Seattle might have the inside track. Do you know that all of the Mariners’ games are broadcast into Japan. All of the Mariners’ tv games.
    Enough said.

  15. John says:

    If I were a baseball player Seattle would be one of the last teams I would want to goto

  16. CubsFaninAZ says:

    Cubs just signed Tsuyoshi Wada earlier in the month, so if needing a teammate thats Japanese is a pre-req than you can check that off, they also have other minor leaguers, as well as Kyuji Fujikawa, coming back from surgery thats Japanese. Most peope forgot how dominant of a closer Fujikawa was for the Hanshin Tigers. His season and expectations derailed by Tommy John surgery, he can be a great mentor after going through that kind of transition. Oh yeah and they already have a translator and japenes media following him through out his rehab in Mesa, where Fujikawa relocated to after surgery. Even after his dissapointing season he still talks up Wrigley, and how it feels like the stadiums in Japan. Could be the salemen the Cubs need. They havent spent a dime on anyone, because lets face it, they’re wasnt any FA young enough or healthy enough to drop the kind of money teams did for players. I mean the Rangers are really going to regret paying a 39 yr old shoo 21 million. I mean if you thought Ichiro has dropped off lately, hes no where near as good as ichiro was and he’ll drop off 10 times worse. Cubs were smart, they are putting all their limited money on Tanaka, Only FA who helps short term and long term, and thats what the FO has said theyll pull the trigger for all along. Cubs are the favorite.
    And yes the true darkhorse in the race is the Houston Astros, they can overpay and not even feel it because of how low they dropped the payroll. If you think foreign players wouldnt be attracted to Houston ive got 2 words for you. Yao Meng.

  17. Pete says:

    There’s lots of bluster from the Yankees and Dodgers, and speculation about the Cubs and Mariners, but if I’m Tanaka and I’m looking at class operations, winning teams and cities with large Japanese populations (that won’t be rabid if he starts slowly), I think he has to consider San Francisco and Boston.

  18. Bookbook says:

    I think this analysis makes sense. That said, all the “no self-respecting ballplayer would sign with Seattle” malarkey is silly. The KC Royals are able to sign free agents, the Florida Marlins featuring the worst/most evil ownership group of profit gougers, has had no problems signing quality FAs. Seattle’s a nice place to live, but even Depressed Detroit or burnt out Ckeveland isn’t at any real disadvantage in attracting players.
    Players usually go where the highest offer is. When they don’t, it’s usually for idiosyncratic reasons (family lives near Pittsburgh, Dad in Detroit, etc.)

  19. silentEuphoria says:

    I am surprised that the Blue Jays were not mentioned in your analysis, or Texas (despite their spending spree and perhaps close to their self imposed cap). People have brought up the importance of culture; Toronto has a very diverse culture with a strong Japanese population. The Jays had a surprisingly down year last year despite high expectations, however the core of the expectations are there and on paper they still can be a playoff team with some tweaks (especially starting pitching). Sure, Toronto has a self imposed rule of not exceeding 5yr contracts but you never know — they could make an exception for a 25yr old or offer a 5/135. Chances are slim though really as he may not want to pitch in the AL East (and a hitters park like Rogers Center) and may rather look to the NL which is more pitcher friendly. Food for thought.

  20. Steve says:

    Not nearly enough attention is paid here to where Tanaka wants to go. If it was solely up to which club was willing to pay the most, the Cubs and Yankees would be fighting it out. But I’d be surprised to see the Cubs land him.

    Another consideration is that the Angels get all the berating for being the “West Coast Yankees” and none of the respect for it. Arte Moreno has made two major acquisitions the past two off seasons that haven’t worked out well at all. He’s paid too much for players who are too old. BUT, he has shown that he wants to win now. I think he’ll go to great lengths to sign Tanaka.

    My money’s on the Angels.

  21. […] Inside the ‘Zone | Ryan P. Morrison: The Cubs might be the best fit for Masahiro Tanaka, but the Yankees need him the most. […]

  22. […] writer gives the Cubs a 55% chance. Masahiro Tanaka Posted, But Don’t Bet on Arizona | Inside the 'Zona Chicago Cubs – 55% Name the last time that a player who looked like he was likely to be […]

  23. […] the 'Zona, a Diamondbacks blog, rates the Cubs as heavy favorites to sign Masahiro Tanaka, giving them a 55% chance.  The Yankees are next closest at 25%.  The […]

  24. […] with the Angels in the Trumbo negotiations.  I’m not moving from my guess that Arizona has a 3% chance or so of signing Tanaka (and Steve Gilbert also cautioned recently that fans should keep “expectations tempered). […]

  25. […] been slow to develop while everyone waited to see if Masahiro Tanaka would be posted.  I think the Cubs and Yankees are front runners for Tanaka, so although there is a chance that the D-backs will land him, the main impact of the Tanaka […]

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