The Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes & Its Impact on the Royals

Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, the market for many of the big-name free agent starting pitchers has been in a constant holding pattern. First, teams were waiting to see if Masahiro Tanaka would even be posted by his team in Japan. Now that he has been posted, and since Tanaka is now the top free agent pitcher available, teams are waiting to see where he chooses to sign so the market can begin to clear up. Guys like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez should have a better idea of what they’ll be able to sign for once Tanaka sets that bar, but it’s not likely that anything starts to shake out for another couple of weeks. Once Tanaka signs, the teams who still need a starter will turn their attention to that next tier of pitchers, which could also impact the trade market for other frontline starters. It all is likely hinging on Tanaka as the first domino.

Most teams will surely inquire on Tanaka, since they don’t even have to pay the $20 million posting fee if he doesn’t sign with them. The Royals are just one of the teams who have been rumored to be interested in the Japanese righty, along with at least 14 other teams:

Athletics

Astros

Mariners

Yankees

Diamondbacks

Angels

Dodgers

Cubs

Tigers

Blue Jays

Red Sox

Indians

Rangers

Phillies

That’s half of the entire league, and those are just the ones I found on a quick search without digging very deep. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are upwards of 20 or 25 teams who place calls into Tanaka’s agent, even if it’s just a cursory call to learn how far out of their budget he’s going to be. Unfortunately, that’s the scenario in which I assume the Royals will be involved. I think Tanaka would be an excellent fit on this roster, and being just 25 years old, he could lock into that 2nd spot in the rotation for the next several years. However, I also understand that with that many teams interested, Tanaka’s price tag could end up being around $140 million, including the posting fee. For a team with payroll limitations like the Royals, committing that kind of money probably wouldn’t be prudent.

That being said, Tanaka signing elsewhere could still have a significant impact on the Royals. The team still has a need for a 2nd starter, in my opinion, so Tanaka coming off the market will impact that search. Also, whatever team signs Tanaka is almost certainly adding wins to their roster.

Considering those factors, where should Royals’ fans hope that Tanaka signs?

Because of the wins Tanaka will likely bring, signing with any AL Central team is going to be bad. In that same vein, any AL Wild Card contender adding wins in the form of Tanaka could potentially be taking wins away from the Royals. Those two criteria eliminate the Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Athletics, Angels, Mariners, and Blue Jays. There have been reports that the Cubs would be more likely to hold on to Jeff Samardzija if they sign Tanaka, in an effort to try and contend sooner than they originally planned, so any trade plans for the Royals on that front would likely stall. That leaves just six teams on the list: Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Astros, Dodgers, and Phillies.

The Diamondbacks have been linked strongly to other starters on the market, so if they miss out on Tanaka, I would still expect them to pursue another pitcher. The same could be said of the Yankees, and possibly the Phillies, so overall it won’t make a huge difference either way for the Royals, other than taking another pitching option off the table. The Astros are still a couple of years away from competing, so the only impact of Tanaka signing there would be forcing the bidding up on the other starters available.

Now we’re down to the two teams I think could potentially help the Royals by signing Tanaka. The Red Sox and Dodgers both have quite a bit of starting pitching depth. Los Angeles already has Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, and Chad Billingsley (once he recovers from Tommy John surgery) competing for the rotation. While I’m not a huge fan of Beckett – his velocity has dropped about 1.5 MPH since 2011 and he’s had injury problems – he could still be a trade target, if the Dodgers are willing to eat some of his $15.8 million salary for next season. Beckett wouldn’t be my first choice, but if Tanaka goes to LA, the Dodgers could be more motivated to move the 33 year old right-hander, so it shouldn’t take much to acquire him. Boston has stated they do not plan on trading any starters, but if they were to sign Tanaka, they would have basically no room for Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster, who will combine to make about $27 million next season. The Royals could pursue one of them – Peavy would be the best option – to improve their rotation.

Despite rumors of the Royals being in on the Tanaka sweepstakes, I don’t expect to see him sign in Kansas City. However, Dayton Moore will still need to keep his eye on where Tanaka lands, so he can judge the pitching market at that point. It’s unlikely that the Royals sign one of the other premier starters available, especially since so many other teams are in need of starting pitching, so the Royals may need to turn to the trade market, which could be significantly impacted after Tanaka is no longer available.

Topics: Kansas City Royals, Masahiro Tanaka

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  • Royals_Fan

    The Yankees, D-Backs or Mariners will get Tanaka. I still want the Royals to look into trying to lower the Cubs asking price for Samardjiza because he has a huge upside. Another name I have read about that might be up for a trade is Homer Bailey. He has a pretty solid year last year and could be a huge #2 as well. I would love to get Santana back, but I feel like out of Garza, Umbaldo and Santana…Garza will most likely go to MINN and Santana go to one of the two teams I listed aboove that didn’t get Tanaka. Umbaldo isn’t worth the first round pick so he will most likely try and go back to Cleveland. If the Royals are seriously looking at getting a #2 pitcher they will most likely have to trade for him. Now, what they give up to get the pitcher is a whole other debate in itself. But the reality of the situation is the Royals need another pitcher and we either spend more money and get to Santana before someone else does or we spend more money/give someone up (most likely Billy, Maxwell or a large amount of prospects).

  • KCMOWHOA

    No mention of the impact Tanaka will have on Santana, and whether that prices him into the Royals budget? (I know it’s unlikely, but it’s an interesting scenario.)

    • Hunter Samuels

      It’s possible, but I think with so many teams in need of starters, Santana’s still probably going to get paid. The Angels, Mariners, DBacks, and Yankees probably will fight over those 3 guys if they miss out on Tanaka. I’d love to get Erv on a 1 year deal, but just don’t see it happening right now.

  • ArrowFan

    So what is the timeline on Tanaka? Anytime with in the next couple of weeks?

  • moretrouble

    Everyone in Santana’s position wants four years. Guthrie, as we know, settled for three. The money, I think, isn’t so much an issue as length. Plus, in Santana’s case, he doesn’t have a steady record of success; lots of up and down years. If Santana drops to three years, then it becomes an issue of where does he prefer to play? Santana has a chance to get to the post season with KC, all reports were that he liked KC, so they may be able to come to terms. Three years, 45 mil plus an option year with a buy-out, is not out of the question.