Masahiro Tanaka is becoming the stuff of legends and he has yet to so much as throw a pitch in a Major League game.
How legendary is Tanaka?
Let’s put it in perspective. Clayton Kershaw just signed a record-shattering deal to stay in Los Angeles for at least the next five seasons. 24 hours later, as far as the hot stove is concerned, he’s merely an afterthought in Tanaka’s shadow. His contract may loom large. But the Japanese pitching phenom is larger than life right now as the bidding process allegedly heats up.
If a guy who’s claim to fame is pitching in the Japanese league is stealing headlines from a pitcher who may be the best in the game today signing a contract that is the biggest in the game today in terms of per-year dollars on average, then it follows that he is probably a pretty big deal.
So far, Tanaka’s name has been connected with several teams. The Mariners were reportedly in the hunt early. The Angels were mentioned as a team in on Tanaka, though the talk there has been quiet lately. The Cubs have apparently had discussions with Tanaka.
And then of course there’s the big guns: the Yankees and the Dodgers. The two teams are allegedly the big guns in on the Japanese right-hander.
It is interesting to note that one Red Sox Blogger seems to think that the Dodgers are going to win the bidding, and even have named a price: 6 years, $120 million. The FanSided.com-driven Bosoxinjection.com has now reported twice that the Dodgers have cut a deal with Tanaka, including this article stating that an announced 10 a.m. press conference being held by General Manager Ned Colletti and ownership managing partner and team President Stan Kasten is due to the team being set to announce not only the extension given to Clayton Kershaw, but also the deal with Tanaka.
Certainly, there are many reasons why Los Angeles would appeal to Tanaka. His wife, Japanese pop star Mai Satoda, reportedly wants to live in the U.S.’s West Coast as it would allow her to more easily continue her career in Japan and cross over into the U.S. music market. There as been some suggestion that Tanaka may prefer a West Coast deal to appease his wife, which would seem to favor the Dodgers if true.
Still, there are a lot of considerations for Tanaka. He could join a New York Yankee team which boasts two other Japanese players, including pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and one of the most successful Japanese players to enter the U.S. market in outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The Yankees have a strong veteran leadership base and Tanaka would immediately slate in as the number 2 starter behind current Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia. Tanaka would bolster a starting rotation in New York that lacks depth beyond Sabathia and Kuroda and give a Yankee team that still features long-time veteran captain Derek Jeter and first base masher Mark Teixeira among its ranks and added a strong leadership presence this off-season in catcher Brian McCann the sort of 1-2-3 pitching punch that can serve it well in the regular season and help it make some noise come playoff time.
However, joining the Dodgers would put Tanaka in a starting rotation that would absolutely be the envy of the league. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke both had Cy Young-calibur seasons last year, and Kershaw actually took home the award, though Greinke was statistically the better pitcher in the last two months of the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu showed that he could be one of the best young arms in the game after making the transition last year from the Korean league, and pitched a gutsy Game 3 in the NLCS to cut the Dodgers’ deficit in that series to 2 games to 1. And the potential #5 starters on the team, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett, both sport resumes as ace pitchers with big game experience. Tanaka would not only be able to fulfill his wife’s reported west coast wish, he’d be potentially the #4 starter on the team and have some breathing room to work out any adjustments he needs to make as the season goes along.
Whether Tanaka comes to Los Angeles or not remains to be seen. What is known is that wherever Masahiro Tanaka lands, he has the potential to reshape a pitching rotation and help change the fortunes of a franchise.