After much discussion and debate, Masahiro Tanaka seems to be headed to the American Major Leagues for the 2014 season. Where he will be putting his skills to use, however, is still open for discussion. Just about every team in the league could use the talent that Tanaka possesses, but only a few will be willing to enter the high-stakes bidding that is sure to develop. Any team that wishes to negotiate with Tanaka will have to commit $20 million in a posting fee to Tanaka’s team in Japan, although only the team that ends up signing the star pitcher will actually have to pay the $20 million.
What does Tanaka Bring?
As with any player that makes their way over from Japan, there are plenty of question marks as to how their performance will translate to the American game. With that said, there is no lack of success stories of players to make the transition from NPB to MLB with great results. Some of the most notable examples include Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Yu Darvish. On the other side of the coin, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa were both acclaimed starting pitchers who failed to find their footing with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.
In the case of Tanaka, most analysts agree that he is on track to be a successful starting pitcher in the major leagues. He has experienced incredible success in Japan, including a 24-0 record last season. Tanaka is just 25 years old, has a powerful fastball, and a 6’2” frame. On paper, he would seem to compare reasonably with Yu Darvish, who has been successful with the Texas Rangers for the past two seasons.
Which Teams are in the Race?
Most teams don’t divulge their free agent interests ahead of time, so there is only speculation as to which teams will be significant players for Tanaka’s services. Six teams that are believed to have strong interest, and the funds to make a deal, are the Rangers, Yankees, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Angels. How much each of those teams is interested, or if there any other other ‘sleeper’ teams waiting in the wings, is yet to be seen. On the surface, the Angels and Rangers seem like long shots simply because of their previous financial commitments. During this off-season, the Rangers have taken on Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, both with significant contracts. The Angels spent big in the last two off-seasons, with Pujols and Hamilton. While the Mariners just spent a fortune on Robinson Cano, rumor has it that there is more room in the Seattle budget. The Yankees, for their part, can never be counted out of the bidding for any free agent – especially given their lack of depth presently in their starting rotation.
No one can be sure as to what Masahiro Tanaka will bring to MLB when he arrives for the 2014 season. With his impressive resume from his career in Japan, it seems likely that he will have success on American soil as well. If he lives up to the potential that he brings with him, the team that wins this sweepstakes will have gotten a great asset for their pitching staff.