Mariners not ready for Tanaka?

Tanaka 300x199 Mariners not ready for Tanaka?Despite the World Series heading into Game 4 Monday and certain of at least six games in all, the buzz in Major League Baseball is shared between the Boston Red Sox versus St. Louis Cardinals and the free agent non-news that’s building up as if the Winter Meetings are right around the corner.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Garza are among the top free agents slated to hit the open market next week, while Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price and Kansas City Royals DH Billy Butler are among the prominent trade topics. Masahiro Tanaka may be the most talked about player that cannot be either traded, or signed as a free agent, and it appears the Seattle Mariners are either the greatest secret keepers of all time, or they aren’t planning to be players for Japan’s best remaining hurler. If you’re into baseball betting, wagering that the club dives deep into the international market is not a good one.

Several clubs have linked to Tanaka already. The Mariners are not one of those. That doesn’t mean they have no interest, haven’t scouted the player — they have — or don’t think very highly of him, it just means it’s not known where their interest lies, if they have interest in playing in such a market.

Tanaka is said to be the closest thing to Yu Darvish that Japan has to offer at this juncture, though none of the scouts I have spoken to believe he has true ace potential like Darvish. Of the seven I have been chatting with, six of them believe Tanaka is worth “big money” in both the bidding — Tanaka has to be posted by his Japanese club — and one believes he’s more like Daisuke Matsuzaka. “He’ll tease with great stuff, and has better command than Dice, but he’s not Darvish and I wouldn’t call him a surefire No. 1 over here.”

Still sounds like a pretty good pitcher, but if the bidding reaches what most seem to be expecting, it’ll get beyond $50 million, and then the right-hander’s contract will cost another $50-75 million.

The Mariners have a solid history with Japanese players, namely Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki, and employ Hisashi Iwakuma at present, but whether or not it makes sense for Seattle to expend in such a manner is also not clear. For me, if the club plans on limiting baseball funds — whether it counts toward the luxury tax or not (the posting fee does not count) — the club has to spend its available monies as wisely as possible.

The Mariners are not the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels or Rangers. They aren’t the Tigers, either. As much as they should be acting like a bigger market baseball organization, they haven’t been and won’t start doing so now, which means if they invest in a player like Tanaka, and it backfires, they don’t have the financial resources to cover it up the way those other clubs do via the international markets — Latin amateurs and Asian professionals alike — and via domestic free agency.

The M’s simply are not ready for that.

Such a move is also not in the spirit of GM Jack Zduriencik’s MO, so if we’re predicting the future rather than opining on if they should or should not, the best gamble is on the team passing and focusing on present major leaguers.

I don’t know one way or the other whether they want in on Tanaka, or any other Japanese player available this offseason, or not. What I do know is that unless something dramatic changes in their organizational approach, they won’t make a competitive bid — or maybe not one at all — for Tanaka’s services.

When I came to this conclusion, if you want to call it that, the first thing I asked myself was whether or not such a decision (not to bid) says anything about the team, its current state, or the upper management and ownership. I think the answer is yes, it does, but I don’t know what that might be, exactly. It could mean their Japanese ties (they still have them) no longer help them or influence them, or it could mean, in a positive manner, that the baseball people are being left to make the personnel decisions without tinkering from above, and Zduriencik’s crew doesn’t feel Tanaka et al, are the best route to take at this time.

The Mariners did hire a new international scouting director last winter in Tim Kissner, which could make a difference in these matters. They do still employ Ted Heid to oversee Pacific Rim operations, and he was around and a major cog when the team brought in Ichiro and Sasaski last decade.

While it’d be nice to have a franchise in town that took risks like this and spent the kind of money to regularly bring in top-tier players just about every year, I don’t believe the Mariners, as a business, are in that position. They took the plunge with Felix Hernandez. This is not about the team being cheap. But as a baseball team, they need these kinds of risks to be taken to climb out of the darkness. As a business, they don’t appear to be willing to risk it.

Unfortunately.

Written by Jason A. Churchill

Moi2 Mariners not ready for Tanaka?

Executive Editor
Jason founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at Inside the Park and covering prep, college and pro sports for several news outlets, local and national, including MLB.com and ESPN Insider. He currently serves as co-host of the Steve Sandmeyer Show on 1090 The Fan, CBS Sports Seattle.

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19 comments on “Mariners not ready for Tanaka?

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  3. JerryEK says:

    Yeah, I completely agree.

    The M’s are starting to develop some quality depth with Walker, Paxton, Maurer, Ramirez, and (hopefully) Hultzen at either the AAA or MLB levels.

    However, I think it would be dumb to count on those guys to contribute. Paxton and Walker had success, but in very small samples last year. Hitters will adjust to them. And Ramirez and Maurer are both talented, but have had their fair share of struggles. Its highly unlikely that all of those guys will pan out, and even expecting two of them to be solid next year (especially early in the season) is probably wishful thinking.

    The M’s would be wise to pick up 1-2 solid starters this offseason. Ideally they should add one very good pitcher and one bargain/reclamation guy to compete with the kids, plus the mandatory Eric Bedard/Jeremy Bonderman/Jon Garland NRI lottery ticket.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the hitters available this offseason just aren’t that good, and the M’s have had a lot of trouble getting the top free agent hitters to take their money. Instead, maybe they should just add talent in the areas where it is available: run prevention. Its not like our starting pitching was all that awesome last year.

    Plus, its not like doing so would block the kids. If 2 of Paxton, Walker, Maurer, and Ramirez are simply too good to not slot into the rotation, trading a pitcher at the trade deadline isn’t exactly difficult. You can never have too much quality pitching. If that happens, great. The M’s can trade pitching for other areas of need, or just move them for prospects to open roster space and restock the farm system. But at the very least, it gives the M’s the luxury of waiting to bring up young players when they are really ready to compete.

  4. mgvernon says:

    This season demonstrates what having only two effective starters leads to. You have to have five plus some depth to step in when one or more have problems. Walker and Paxton might give them 4, with one of Ramirez, Maurer and Beavan as the 5th and backups. I sure hope they start the season with more than that.

  5. JerryEK says:

    Integrity?

  6. JerryEK says:

    Nothing you said makes sense.

    Ethier isn’t a CFer. He’s not even an average LFer. He was only playing there because Matt Kemp (who also isn’t a good defensive CFer) was hurt. Playing a below average player in CF doesn’t magically make him good.

    The only thing more irrelevant than gold gloves? RBI.

    There are lots of good stats to measure both offense and defense. You picked two of the worst.

  7. lukearkins says:

    Focus on improving the offense, defense, and bullpen. The Ms will figure out their rotation with in house options.

  8. Paul Martin says:

    Jason, why doesn’t someone put in a crazy bid for Tanaka ($200 million?) with no intention of signing him? This keeps the Yankees from getting him. If the team doesn’t sign him, they don’t have to pay the posting fee and their is no penalty for doing this…

  9. davis09 says:

    How many guys on our team drove in over 100 runs and played gold glove defense. Brandon Phillips is loved by teammates and is outspoken against the front office. You stick with Ackley smoak saunders etc. its another 90 plus loss season. 12.5 per year for 4 years is a great deal for Phillips

  10. davis09 says:

    12.5 per year for just 4 years for over 100 RBI and gold glove defense is a steal. I just saying Phillips and Ethiers contracts will be steals after what this years free agents get. Choo cant hit lefthanders either and is not much better on the defensive side as Ethier. They both had to play CF this year so they cant be that bad. We stick with Ackley,Smoak,Saunders etc its another 90 loss season.

  11. ripperlv says:

    Well said. I’d rather go after someone like Will Venable than Either, but I guess that’s whole other argument.

    Also Tanaka is what the M’s do need. If you have a dynamite starting rotation, you’re always in the game and you can focus on what you need. Half a rotation and a couple position players leaves you getting lousy starters on one year contracts. Just look at us the last few years.

  12. rotoenquire says:

    McLouth umm NO, Itoi from Japan hells yea!!

  13. rotoenquire says:

    For this year and maybe even next year Tanaka is not what the M’s need. However I think you look at it this way. You get a guy now for a decent price who is young with so much talent now. And know he will be there in year 3 when the M’s could be going for it. So instead of trying to find a guy down the road why not think ahead and get him now. In any business you have to think what will this do for me 2-3-4 years from now. Not just this season or the next.

  14. mgvernon says:

    Tanaka followed up an amazing career first with something even more impressive the second time around. Less than 24 hours after striking out 12 during a complete-game victory in his Japan Series debut, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace was named the Sawamura Award winner for the second time. “I’m so happy,” Tanaka told Kyodo News. “It’s the biggest award a pitcher can receive. For an entire year, I was able to keep my place in the starting rotation, and the numbers followed.” Talk about a guy having a good year!

    I agree Phillips for 2B is not a high priority proposition. Colon, Vargas, Nolasco, Feldman and Hughes would be free agent pitchers I like. In reality I doubt the Mariners will put in a winning bid for Tanaka but I hope they don’t give Ellsbury or Choo an albatross deal either, neither will live up to nine figures IMO.

  15. JerryEK says:

    Really?

    McLouth is an incredibly mediocre player. He’s a league average hitter, and well below average for a corner outfielder. Michael Saunders is better than him right now, and Ackley put up similar numbers last season. But both are younger, cheaper, and have much much higher upside. And he’s only marginally better in a platoon. Rajai Davis is a good player, tho. He’d be a nice addition as a 4th OFer that plays often.

    Ethier is waaaay overpaid, can’t hit lefties, is mediocre defensively, and will be 32 next year. You’d be paying $15 mil/yr for his 32-35 seasons. He’s already in decline now, and there is no reason to think that won’t continue. He’d be a good platoon OFer, but those shouldn’t cost $15 mil/year. If the M’s could pick him up for nothing (middling prospects) and the Dodgers picked up $30 mil due to him, great. But I highly doubt they do that.

    Phillips is an even worse idea. He’s older, and also due a lot of money (4yrs/$50 mil). Plus, he’s just not that good. He’s a .280/.325/.420 ish hitter playing in a bandbox stadium in a weak league. He is already in decline (OPS of .810, .750, and .706 the last three years), and can’t steal bases like he did in his peak. Right now is the ideal time for the Reds to trade him, because he’s still above average and has name recognition. However, he’s clearly in decline, and whatever team picks him up will be paying a significant amount for an increasingly less valuable player. No thanks.

    More importantly, the M’s currently have Ackley and Franklin at 2B. Nobody seems to discuss this much, but Ackley was damn good in the second half, and is very talented. Honestly, I think either of the two are likely to outplay Phillips in 2014. Plus, the best hitter in our system right now is DJ Peterson, who has a chance to stick at 3B. If he does, he could push Seager to 2B. Further, we have the next Brad Miller in the system in Chris Taylor, who is a better defensive SS and hit WAAAY better than anyone expected in 2013 (.315/.409/.455 split between A+ and AA). If Taylor keeps it up, he could push Miller to 2B, further exacerbating our logjam at 2B.

    Why add an expensive, declining player at the one position where we already have great depth?

    Finally, Ervin Santa is likely to be the most overpaid player in free agency this year. He’s been inconsistent, and best projects as a #3 starter. However, some team is going to overpay for a career year and nice ERA. His next contract has been conservatively estimated at around 5/75 mil, and he’d cost us a draft pick, too. No thanks. Given what he’ll cost, if the M’s really really want to sign a safe and reliable free agent #3 starter I’d rather pay a bit more for Matt Garza or less for Ricky Nolasco. Or better yet, skip these guys and focus on Tanaka, Dan Haren, or Phil Hughes.

    If the M’s do what you suggest, that would be the “Bavasi Memorial Sum of All Worst Fears” offseason I described above.

  16. davis09 says:

    The M’s should make a lot of moves this off season with plenty of room to build and compete. Free agent contracts are going to get nuts this year and a lot of contacts will be huge overpays.I think we should try to trade for Brandon Phillips and Andre Ethier. We could put together a package for Phillips and Ethier wont cost much in prospects if we take on 64ish of the 71/4 left. I would rather have Ethier at 15 million for 4 years than Choo at 20 for 6. Sign a couple reasonable of’s like Mclouth and Rajai Davis and a # 3 starter like Vargas or E. Santana and compete.

    Mclouth/Davis LF
    Miller SS
    Phillips 2B
    Morales DH
    Ethier RF
    Seager 3B
    Smoak 1B
    Saunders/ Ackley CF
    Zunino C

  17. JerryEK says:

    I wouldn’t put too much weight into the lack of rumors regarding the M’s level of interest, since this organization is incredibly secretive.

    However, I’d be really disappointed if they don’t get involved. He makes a ton of sense on multiple level, particularly considering his age. Obviously, the M’s need to trust their scouts. If they simply don’t think he’s that good, fine. But I’m getting myself prepared for another “we need power bats” offseason, where the club just follows a flawed process to improve the team. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I have to admit that I’m quite pessimistic.

    This offseason could go lots of ways:
    1. Team makes smart moves to bring in talent, takes good calculated risks with big expenditures (Tanaka!), picks up some good undervalued players, makes wise trades, avoids giving away our talented young guys, and takes a step forward. This involves abandoning the flawed approach we saw last year and learning from mistakes.

    2. The team build a bad roster by bringing in flawed players, but avoid long-term contracts or trades that would hurt the team in the long term. This is what they did last offseason, although part of that is simply due to their inability to sign albatross contracts (Josh Hamilton) or mortgage the future via trade (Franklin, Walker and more for Justin Upton).

    3. The team keeps their same plan as last year, but is not saved from their own idiocy this time. This could be called the “Bavasi Memorial Sum of All Worst Fears” scenario, with a combo of dumb free agent contracts, giving up on guys like Ackley, Saunders, and Smoak too early, and trading away top prospects to win a few more games in the short term. In this scenario, Jack et al not only maintain poor results next year, but make it more difficult for their successors to get the team back on track. I’d typically say this is just pessimism, but the fact that Jack has recently tried (unsuccessfully) to do this last offseason is incredibly worrisome.

    I’m hoping that we see something like Scenario #1 this winter. However, I’m not that optimistic given the way the M’s decision making has trended lately. The more realistic scenarios are 2 and 3. Hopefully it’s the former, and the M’s are at least in good shape for new management to right the ship following the dismissal of Lincoln, Armstrong, and Jack.

  18. ripperlv says:

    Yes how unforturnate, JC sums it up pretty well.
    Would still love to see an all-in. Guys like Vargas, Nolasco, Randy Messenger or Scott Feldman are useless in that is what we sign every year. If they were going to be a #5, then OK. But we pick them up as # 3′s. I would have to think somewhere in the business model it states that a winning team makes money. There is already a ton of money made in the appreciation of the ballclub and cable. Either put up a winning team or sell and let someone else take care of business. Baseball business.

  19. mgvernon says:

    Maury Brown at Forbes.com has written an interesting article entitled Why Portland and other markets begging for MLB will get bloody knees waiting. In it he notes that, “The Seattle Mariners purchased the majority stake in ROOT Sports NW, the regional sports network in the Pacific Northwest that is worth a reported $2 billion over 17-years. (This works out to $117 million a year.) To place that in perspective, the Mariners prior media rights extension was worth $450 million over 10-years; a staggering leap.” Full story is at: http://bizofbaseball.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3157&Itemid=170

    The M’s can afford to make the move on Tanaka, resign Morales, sign a free agent or two rotation pieces (not the top arms but ones like Vargas, Nolasco, Randy Messenger or Scott Feldman) and sign a free agent or trade for OF help other than Ellsbury or Choo. Ellsbury will cost more than Tanaka (Tim Dierkes of MLBTR figures Ellsbury will cost up to $150 million);

    However I do agree that it is not a move the Mariners will probably make. His attraction to me besides his incredible record this season, which was better than Matsuzaka and Darvish is that he will be in his prime years all through a six-year deal and the Ms need to get good pieces that they can retain along with the young prospects.

    The latest from Japan Times: Tanaka handcuffs potent Giants lineup, lifts Eagles to Game 2 triumph (in the Japan Series) When you’re in desperate need of a win, a pretty good strategy is to give the ball to the guy who never loses and get out the way. Masahiro Tanaka went the distance and struck out 12 in his Japan Series debut, getting a little help from a crucial blown call, to lead the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to a 2-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 2 of the Japanese Fall Classic on Sunday night at Kleenex Stadium. “The guy is an animal,” Rakuten third baseman Casey McGehee said. “Especially tonight. Every pitch he threw was a possible game-changing pitch. He made, maybe, arguably, one mistake that the guy (Takayuki Terauchi) hit out. He was unbelievable, just like he’s been pretty much every time he’s been out there.” Tanaka still has yet to taste defeat this season. He finished the regular season 24-0 with a save, and improved to 2-0 (both complete-game victories) with a save during the playoffs.

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