So They Didn’t Sign Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka’s going to New York, and it’s official, so no take-backsies. It always kind of looked like the Mariners would make a whole lot of sense, even before people started connecting them to Tanaka, and then people started connecting them to Tanaka. But then that stopped, and about a week passed, and then we got here. We can’t be certain to what extent the Mariners were actually involved, and I don’t know if they’ll ever choose to open up about it like, say, the Astros have in acknowledging they met and made a nine-figure offer. Maybe the M’s were in really deep. But there was no actual indication of that, and perhaps the M’s anticipated how high this would go and started to look elsewhere. Perhaps the M’s were uncomfortable with seven years and $175 million.
Because that’s what this is going to cost the Yankees: seven years and $175 million. Unless Tanaka is healthy and good, in which case it’ll cost them four years and $108 million, and then he’ll opt out and sign for more. Tanaka was at his absolute most appealing several months ago, I think. At that point he was an idea, a talented mystery, and he’d be in a position where he’d basically have to sign with the team with the highest posting bid. And we loved the way posting bids came from some kind of separate budget. Then changes to the posting system more or less exposed Tanaka to free-agency prices. Suddenly everyone got to be involved. Today’s numbers function as a splash of cold water on a daydreamer’s face.
No more is it about Tanaka being a mystery, and therefore potentially being a bargain. The posting fee plus the salary add up to Felix Hernandez money. Tanaka has an opt-out. Felix has a cheap option if he hurts his elbow. It isn’t fair to just directly compare the numbers like that, but it still conveys a powerful and mostly accurate idea — Tanaka’s being paid to be somewhat similar to Felix Hernandez, and Felix is getting paid basically what he’s worth. While the Yankees are happy to print their own money, had the Mariners guaranteed a contract like this, there would’ve been more ways for it to go bad than good. Though I’m fairly certain Tanaka will be pretty good, this goes well past the point of being an obvious deal. At these terms, the Mariners were at least not wrong to hold back.
It’s just that, you know, there’s that dilemma. Tanaka won’t be a bargain, but he was probably the best free agent left. Maybe the best available player left. And the Mariners still need to get better, if they aim to contend in the short term, which is kind of the whole point of signing Robinson Cano for so much. I know they say it’s a ten-year marriage, and I know they say they expect Cano to age gracefully, but he won’t be better in 2017 than he will be in 2014. The plan, it seems, is to win. The progress is incomplete.
By the FanGraphs projected standings, the Mariners are the 11th-best team in the American League. By the FanGraphs projected WAR, the Mariners are still the 11th-best team in the American League. Of course, there’s a whole mess of teams right ahead of them, and the M’s are close enough to get carried away, but being trapped behind that many teams leaves them with very low odds. The M’s could still badly use another four or five wins, which is to say, the M’s could still badly use immediate roster upgrades. A few of them, since you probably won’t gain that with one player.
And there’s relatively little left. I mean, there’s a lot left, a lot more than usual by this point in January, but there’s nothing easy about the task the Mariners face, especially if it’s true that they’re pushing up against their budget ceiling. David Price would be a splash, but we’ve been over that. The remaining upper-tier starters are all interesting, but they’ll be expensive and they’re all no less mysterious than Tanaka is, given Garza’s health, Santana’s volatility, and Jimenez’s unpredictability. It’s been interesting to think about the link between the Mariners and Scott Baker, but Baker might not return to being the consistent pitcher he was. I keep advertising Chris Capuano everywhere, but that’d be a small improvement. They need more improvements.
For me, the wild card in a way is Nick Franklin. He’s got nowhere to play, and he’s young and good and appealing. Ordinarily fans are loath to trade their own quality prospects, but I think we’ve all come to terms with Franklin’s expendability. He’s potentially of the most use to the Mariners by getting traded, provided the trade is a good one, for help. He’s good enough to be the centerpiece in a move for a relative splash, a move that would forgivably focus more on the present. But I can’t speak to the league-wide demand. The one move I know in which Franklin was involved, I didn’t like. I should hope that the Mariners could turn him into something pretty good.
It’s a weird day for Mariners fans. It’s a good day, just in that, all right, the offseason can resume now. Tanaka’s finally off the board, and he got a massive deal, so it’s not like the Mariners totally whiffed. But the Mariners still do need to get better, and no route will be quicker than the Tanaka one would’ve. So if the front office wants to achieve the goal it set for itself some months back, it needs to go all Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment. I don’t know if she actually navigated security lasers in the movie but that’s what the promotional poster made it look like. You could also think of the Mariners as having to play Operation, and Jack Zduriencik’s got some chubby fingers.
In time, Tanaka will be just another pitcher. Maybe a very good one, but in time he’ll feel real. We’ll be able to say, okay, he’s as good as this other guy, like we can do with Yu Darvish. In time he’ll feel a lot less, I don’t know, exotic. The process started today when we heard about the one hundred seventy-five million dollars. I’m okay with the Mariners sitting this one out. I’m just not quite sure what they’re supposed to do now. The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, though. Wow!