The idea borders on insanity at first impression.
Could the Oakland A’s seriously enter the mix for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who it’s possible could command a contract topping $100 million?
Logic suggests no, but it’s never wise to assume you’ve got this team’s thought process completely figured out. The New York Daily News’ Bill Madden reported Saturday that Oakland could be a surprise contender for Tanaka. He quoted an anonymous Major League executive, who offered this:
“Watch out for Oakland. They’ve got as much money as any team and they like doing these big international things — as with their signing of (Yoenis) Cespedes and the fact they were second to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman five years ago.”
It’s a stretch to say the A’s have as much money as any team. And the comments from that unnamed executive sound merely speculative – an educated attempt to put two and two together based on past A’s pursuits. But it’s true that Oakland does mine the international talent field aggressively.
When this offseason began, you certainly wouldn’t have guessed the A’s would throw $22 million at Scott Kazmir and trade for closer Jim Johnson (both in the same day). So anything’s possible.
Let’s look at some of the reasons it might make sense for the A’s to at least entertain the idea of making a run at Tanaka:
Though their starting rotation is solid heading into the upcoming season, they lack a bona fide ace. Who would you designate as their No. 1 starter right now? I’d endorse Jarrod Parker based on the consistency he showed in 2013. But an argument could be made for Sonny Gray given the potential he flashed last season. Or the recently signed Kazmir, who is the most experienced of the A’s starters and possesses high-quality stuff.
But you can’t make an air-tight case for any of them. Tanaka, 25, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who are releasing him from his contract so he can play in the United States. He throws a fastball that reportedly hits 96 mph and pairs it with a nasty splitter.
Though the caliber of competition in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball is considered inferior to that in the majors, those kinds of numbers dazzle. You can’t help but wonder what the right-hander might accomplish in a big league rotation.
The A’s also have a reputation for an inviting clubhouse that’s easy for an international player to assimilate into. Cespedes has been well-received since defecting from Cuba and signing with Oakland in 2012. The same could be said for Hideki Matsui in 2011, even if his one season in Oakland wasn’t a success on the field.
And the pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum could be an enticing option for Tanaka as a home ballpark, outdated as it might be.
The biggest downside to the A’s pursuing the right-hander, of course, is the massive amount of money he will command. Rakuten figures to ask for the maximum $20 million posting fee, which a major league team must pay to Rakuten just for the right to negotiate with Tanaka.
Among the teams that have been linked to Tanaka are three American League West clubs – the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers – plus the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays. If more than one team agrees to pay Rakuten’s posting fee, Tanaka can talk contract with each of them, and that would drive up the bidding process, with many believing his price tag will exceed $100 million on a multiyear deal.
The A’s -- who like all teams will receive an extra $25 million this year from a national TV contract – have been bold in their spending this winter, signing Kazmir to his two-year $22 million deal and trading for Johnson, who will command close to $11 million through arbitration.
But the Tanaka market is an entirely different neighborhood. A’s general manager Billy Beane said that the 2014 payroll could increase from last year’s season-ending $71.1 million, but not by a large percentage.
Of course when last season ended, all indications were it would be a somewhat quiet winter for the A’s. Then December arrived, and you needed a score card to keep track of all the roster moves.
This team entertains throughout the offseason like no other, so no sort of Tanaka speculation should come as a complete shocker.