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.