When right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles December 24, giving Major League Baseball clubs 30 days to negotiate with the “free agent” for the bargain price of $20 million on top of the players’ contract, the buzz began. It started with a list of about 10 clubs expected to consider a serious run at Tanaka: Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners. A few have opined that the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics are darkhorse possibilities, and the White Sox have also met with Tanaka’s representation.

Some in the industry believe the Cubs “won’t be outbid” for Tanaka’s services, while others believe the team that needs him the most is the Yankees and the team that makes the most sense is the Dodgers. We’re at the halfway point in that 30-day window and according to two sources, if there is a such thing as momentum, it’s all sitting in the Mariners’ wagon.

There’s some chatter in certain circles that Tanaka may visit Seattle soon — we’ll see on that front as the clock is ticking — and the same circles suggest Tanaka and his agent, Casey Close, may have requested that teams do not fly to Japan to meet with Tanaka, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported the Diamondbacks were willing to do last month.

There are advantages to teams out west, based on pasty history of some Japanese stars preferring to remain 4-5 hours closer to home, and winning has to matter to some extent. The Dodgers, Angels, Rangers and D-Backs have have both — they are out west and are considered better bets to win than, say, the Mariners. The Cubs may be another few years from strong contention, but Close knows Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be winning regularly in the next couple of years.

There also have been instances where the Japanese player did not want to share the spotlight with another Japanese player. If that were to be the case that would rule out all the above suitors except for the Cubs and Diamondbacks, but there are no indications that’s an issue with Tanaka, who played alongside M’s right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma for five years (2007-2011).

The suggested numbers on Tanaka’s contract vary from $15 million per season over five or six years to seven years and $125 million, plus the release fee of $20 million, which would make the total investment nearly $150 million. The Mariners may be ultra-motivated to sign Tanaka, for numerous reasons. First of all, Tanaka costs money only, no draft pick compensation. Second, he appears to be a safer investment than the rest of the top free agent starting pitchers, such as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, both in terms of injury concerns as well as reliable performances, despite the fact that Tanaka has never thrown a single pitch in Major League Baseball.

Another reason the M’s may be inclined to invest the necessary monies into Tanaka is to continue the recent positive trends surrounding the team. The most important factor should be, and probably is, about getting better on the field, and Tanaka certainly helps there, too.

Most pundits are now projecting Tanaka signs with either Seattle or Arizona, but if any of the rumors, vis-a-vis the Mariners’ heavy courting of the split-finger master and the idea that perhaps Tanaka already knows where he wants to play, things could end well for the Emerald City.

Is anything imminent with Tanaka and the Mariners? Doesn’t sound like it. Would I make a calculated wager on it?

You betcha.

– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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