Masahiro Tanaka did not visit with the Red Sox during his visit to Los Angeles last week, but the team has had conversations with the pitcher’s agent, Casey Close, according to a team source.
Late last week, Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino issued a “no comment” on whether the Red Sox had met with the 25-year-old righthander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan.
The Red Sox have been non-committal about their interest, or lack thereof, in the pitcher whom many teams seem to believe could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. The Red Sox seem to be more discerning perhaps because they were burned by their last big Japanese pursuit, Daisuke Matsuzaka, which cost the team $103 million. About half of that sum went toward a posting fee.
With the new posting system, teams can bid up to the maximum $20 million posting fee, and the player can negotiate with all teams that bid. While the system allows more teams to enter the bidding, it appears large market teams still have the advantage.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Seattle Mariners have been linked most strongly to Tanaka, but it doesn’t mean others like the Toronto Blue Jays or the Philadelphia Phillies aren’t pursuing him. Those teams have made their intentions very public and clear.
The Yankees need another top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and believe strongly Tanaka would fit. They already have Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation. He could be a strong selling point for Tanaka.
While the days of the Yankees outbidding everyone for a player aren’t exactly over, the 8,000-pound gorilla in the room is now the Dodgers, who seem to have an endless flow of money to compete for international players and have made it a top priority in their organization.
The Dodgers have said publicly they will not be outbid on Tanaka, so it would be up to the pitcher on where he plays and would have turn down the Dodgers offer to play for less money some place else. At least that’s the way it’s shaping up.
The Red Sox also find themselves in a strong position in that they have young pitchers ready to compete for spots on the major league roster. Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes could be every bit as good as Tanaka.
The Red Sox also have six veteran starting pitchers. One of them, Jon Lester, is the ace of the staff and in the final year of his contract. He’ll demand a huge payday either before or into free agency. An issue in favor of pursuing Tanaka is that Clay Buchholz, who is a No. 1 or No. 2 when healthy, hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career so far.
The Red Sox have had great success with Japanese relievers. Lefty Hideki Okajima gave them two quality years. Junichi Tazawa has turned into a strong set-up man and Koji Uehara saved the day as the closer last season.