The Mariners Will Bid For Masahiro Tanaka
Of course they will. No, I’m not sourced on this. No, I don’t need to be. Masahiro Tanaka has been posted as of today, and the Mariners will be involved. A month from now, Tanaka will belong to somebody. Maybe this team.
The Mariners, certainly, haven’t been linked. Not like other teams — not like the Yankees or the Dodgers or the Diamondbacks or the Cubs or a few others. So nobody out there is identifying the Mariners as favorites. As far as much of the media is concerned, the Mariners aren’t even in the running. But they’re going to be in there, because almost everybody is going to be in there. And if you think about it, why would we have heard about the Mariners?
What would the Mariners have to gain from leaking their own interest? They’ve never been that kind of front office. And we haven’t heard about it from the other side, because there hasn’t really been an other side. Tanaka just got representation, and he just got posted. Many of the whispers we hear about the Mariners, we hear from the people with whom they’re negotiating. They haven’t started negotiating this, so the whispers haven’t floated around. There’s no reason for the Mariners to talk, and there hasn’t been anybody else to do the talking.
Not that it’s directly comparable, but the Mariners weren’t linked right away to Hisashi Iwakuma when he was a free agent. First it was the Twins, then the A’s, then the Mariners and the Orioles, with the Mariners stuff coming out of Japan before being confirmed by Jon Heyman. Then everything came together very quickly. Kind of like when the Mariners traded Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero — that was a bombshell that came out of nowhere. Said Iwakuma around the time:
“We’ve received terms from a number of clubs, but considering where I’m needed and an environment my family can live in, at present we’re closest to a contract with the Mariners,” Iwakuma said.
This is going to be the Mariners’ hope. There’s already talk that the Cubs won’t allow themselves to be outbid for Tanaka’s services. The Yankees are looking for another 200 innings and a splash, and Kevin Towers has made no secret of his desire for a front-of-the-rotation starter. The Angels will spend as much as they can, and you’d be foolish to count out the Dodgers. The Mariners will be in on Tanaka, and they presumably won’t end up with the highest bid, and what they’ll have to offer is proximity, history, and a significant Japanese community. Tanaka could share the rotation with a former teammate. The Mariners will hope that Tanaka’s approximation of free agency won’t come down only to money and years. If that happens, they’ll have to look elsewhere.
But it’s obvious they’ll be involved. They want a top-flight starting pitcher, and they don’t want to give up important youth to get it. They’ve had good experiences with untested Japanese players in the past, and Jack Zduriencik already alluded to there being budget flexibility under special circumstances. Tanaka is as special as offseason circumstances get. If there’s room to add a certain big-money player, Tanaka has to qualify, or else almost no one would qualify. This is a guy the Mariners want — this is a guy the Mariners know could boost them right toward immediate contention. Add Tanaka and Robinson Cano and you might be adding nine or ten wins.
Yeah, Tanaka’s had a heavy workload. He’s also 25. Ubaldo Jimenez is about to turn 30. Matt Garza already turned 30. Ervin Santana just turned 31. David Price is 28, and expensive, and just had an arm problem, and wouldn’t be under control for long. You’re never going to find a pitcher who isn’t extremely risky, and Tanaka’s young enough to bounce back from just about anything. He has the talent to be an ace, and he hasn’t physically wavered yet. Felix Hernandez has had a heavy workload, too.
No one’s going to go all-out for Tanaka, because there has to be a limit, because he is unproven here, and because Daisuke Matsuzaka and others have busted. He feels like more of a certainty than he is, and that’s why he’s not going to get a Verlander contract. Still, this is going nine figures, and the Mariners are probably comfortable enough with that. They couldn’t not be, not after the Cano thing. You can’t give a decade to a 31-year-old second baseman, and feel good about it, and then draw a conservative line with a 25-year-old Japanese ace. I doubt the Mariners’ final bid will be blown out of the water. It will just, probably, be short. And that’s why they’ll hope for other reasons behind Tanaka’s decision.
Here’s the thing: Tanaka makes perfect sense for the Mariners. Just perfect sense. He’s an excellent starting pitcher in the prime of his career. These players are never available just for money. He’s an improvement for 2014 and 2019, meaning he’s a short-term and long-term building block. That’s precisely what the Mariners need. That’s also precisely what literally everyone needs. Tanaka makes sense for contenders and non-contenders alike. Everyone has a chance, now, with the new posting system, and while certain teams won’t really dive in head-first — the Marlins, for example, likely won’t bother — every roster looks a hell of a lot better with Tanaka on it. Every future looks a hell of a lot better with Tanaka in it. Presuming he doesn’t bust, which he shouldn’t, but, which he might. Everyone has a reason to want him, so the Mariners will be competing within a massive, overwhelming market.
So that reduces the probability. The greater the number of teams in the mix, the lesser the likelihood that Tanaka puts on a Mariners uniform. It’s not like they can just set their minds to it and get him — he’s not an item on a shelf, he’s not a six-minute mile. There is one of this guy, and there are 20+ teams who want the same one guy, and plenty of them will go after him hard. Almost every team will lose. The Mariners have to hope that Tanaka likes perks and security. They have to hope that he likes them back. Probably enough to make up for a gap in proposed contract terms.
So, off we go, finally. Between now and the start of spring training, the Mariners will add at least one starting pitcher to the current rotation. They haven’t formally been linked to Masahiro Tanaka, but they’ll be in pursuit. All the while, they’ll remain in contact with the free agents and they’ll place some calls to other front offices. Their goal, in part, is to just not get shut out. But they’d also love to add somebody great. You know, like every team would.