It is finally official. Today, Masahiro Tanaka has been posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, opening him up to negotiate with whichever major league teams are willing to offer up the $20 million posting fee should they sign him. With Tanaka an extremely talented pitcher, plenty of teams will be in the mix. Over the past few months, however, certain teams have separated themselves from the pack. The New York Yankees need another starting pitcher and they have had their eye on Tanaka for a long time. The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly have the money, and could make their excellent rotation just a little more terrifying. The Seattle Mariners are owned by the Japanese company Nintendo and have brought stars like Ichiro Suzuki and Hisashi Iwakuma to the United States. Add in that they are a franchise in win-now mode following their signing of Robinson Cano, and Tanaka looks like a great fit. The Arizona Diamondbacks have also reportedly made Tanaka their number one priority and the Chicago Cubs cannot be forgotten as well. Tanaka brings all these teams together, but something else unites the latter four: they are also suitors for David Price. That is why, as crazy as it sounds, the Tampa Bay Rays need their division-rival Yankees to ink Tanaka and leave the remaining teams in the market for a starting pitcher.
To say that the New York Yankees’ rotation needs some work is an understatement. Hiroki Kuroda is coming off a couple of fine years in New York, Ivan Nova had a great 2013, and CC Sabathia is too good not to rebound next season, but who comes after that? The Yankees have Michael Pineda–who still has not thrown a pitch in the Bronx–David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and maybe even top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. But are the mighty Yankees really going to choose not one, but two pitchers from that list? Signing Tanaka would change everything. Suddenly New York would have a fearsome front four and be right in the thick of things in the AL East next season. Tanaka is not the only option, but Matt Garza is an injury risk and Ervin Santana would cost them a draft pick. There is no pitcher is good as Tanaka available, and the Yankees are as motivated as anyone to get him. Let’s be honest: getting their payroll below $189 million is not happening because the Yankees brand cannot possibly afford another season as embarrassing as 2013. We have seen some crazy things this offseason–who ever would have thought the Yankees would get outbid for Robinson Cano? But if the Yankees do not land Masahiro Tanaka, there is something seriously wrong.
Why should the Rays want the Yankees to sign Tanaka? Wouldn’t they be better off with some other team getting him and the Yankees being forced to go with an inferior option? But the Rays have bigger issues to worry about. If Tanaka signs with any of the major players for him, suddenly the bidding for David Price goes down another notch. There was a never a chance the Yankees could land him, so the best thing for Price’s market would be for them to sign him and leave all the contenders for Price not just still in play but also a little more desperate. But aren’t we getting so obsessed with a return for Price that we are losing track of the big picture? The Rays want as easy of a road to the 2014 Postseason as possible–especially if Price is going to be gone, why would the Rays possibly want to make that any harder? The simple answer is that it could very well take Tanaka time to adjust. He will be going from starting every six days to every five, and that goes without mentioning the language barrier and the cultural differences. Masahiro Tanaka may be regarded as a number two starter, but there is no guarantee he pitches at that level next season. Delving deeper, though, a David Price trade cannot be made with the focus solely on next season.
If the Rays wanted to have the best possible chance to win in 2014, they would keep David Price. That is a pretty agreeable statement. But while they hope to contend next season, they are trading Price for the sake of long-term success. If they do indeed deal him, it will only be because it will net them the pieces to make their future even brighter than it is now. The Rays can’t worry about the Yankees. They have the money and the prestige and they will always be there. If not Masahiro Tanaka, then they will sign Garza now and another pitcher next year. The Rays can hope the Yankees fall apart like they did in the early 1990’s, but the Rays just have to ignore them and construct the best team they possibly can for themselves no matter what happens with the Yankees. If they are good enough, it doesn’t matter what the Yankees do, and even if the Yankees create a super-team, there are two Wild Cards for the Rays to fall back on. So what if the Yankees sign another great pitcher? If the Rays get the type of prospects they are looking for in exchange for Price, they will be right there with New York anyway for years to come. Let the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka and the teams left disappointed direct their attention to David Price. There is no realistic outcome the Rays would want more.