Back in October, I wrote that it appeared the Seattle Mariners were not ready for right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese ace who would like his Rakuten club to post him this winter. The premise of that piece was that it was too bad Tanaka did not appear to be a target, because he seems to be a great investment opportunity for the M’s. One of the reasons why I suspected Seattle might think they weren’t ready for such a financial commitment was that doing so for a club that had pretty much no chance to win in 2014 was likely to push them away. In that sense, I get why they might think so. Again, this was my speculation on their situation.

Seven weeks later, things have changed. General manager Jack Zduriencik has hired a new manager and coaching staff, acquired Logan Morrison via trade and signed Corey Hart and Willie Bloomquist to free-agent contracts. Zduriencik received enormous support from ownership when the club signed Robinson Cano, and the ONLY decision for this organization today is for that same ownership group and CEO Howard Lincoln to get out that checkbook and go hard after Tanaka, if he is indeed posted.

Love him or hate him, believe in him or not, Zduriencik is this club’s GM for the immediate future. Cano’s deal is 100 percent guaranteed, and those guarantees start right away. Not in 2015, not as soon as the Mariners’ RSN money kicks in, right now. Make it count, as I wrote a few weeks back.

The new posting system regulations limits the bidding maximum to $20 million. All teams that meet the “release fee” requested by the Japanese club can negotiate with the player. If a contract is agreed upon, that team will pay the fee to the Japanese club. In Tanaka’s case, the contract will dwarf the release fee, and may very well exceed the 6-year, $56 million deal Yu Darvish inked with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2012 season.

It may take upwards of $70 million to get Tanaka to sign on the dotted line, likely on a deal at least five years long, maybe six. That’s a lot of guaranteed money, but Tanaka is a better investment than is any of the remaining starting pitchers on the free agent market.

Scouting Tanaka
Tanaka, 25, stands about 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and has a slightly long arm path. His arm speed is terrific, however, and the wrist cuff he employs at the back of his delivery does not appear to negatively impact anything else he needs to do to stay on top of his pitches and finish his breaking ball.

The right-hander uses a four-seam fastball that sits 91-93 mph and touches 95 on occasion. It’s a fairly true fastball, but he commands it well; there is some concern that if he throws up in the zone as much in the states as he does in Japan that he’ll be hurt by the long ball.

His best pitch is a plus splitter he throws in the 85-88 mph range — he has terrific arm speed on the pitch — but he also throws a softer version, more like a true changeup, in 80-82 range. His slider has two-plane break at 85-86 mph and he also offers a curveball in the low-80s. At times his curveball is the better of the two breaking balls, but he’s thrown the slider more the past few years. He can throw both pitches for called strikes, and the slider is a solid swing-and-miss pitch.

Tanaka possesses plus control with average fastball command. He repeats his delivery well and offers deception and some athleticism. If he throws the fastball downhill he’ll be very difficult to hit and could fit in MLB as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

The Mariners’ Payroll
We don’t know what the organization’s limits will be. We don’t know if there even is a set number, let alone know what that number actually is. What we do know is that Lincoln and his business people shrewdly negotiated an opt-out in their TV deal, which allowed them to eventually acquire majority interest the RSN, which will be an extremely lucrative asset for them starting next season.

We also know there is no salary cap in baseball and that the M’s are not even remotely close to the luxury tax threshold. Cano, Hart and Morrison are not nearly enough if this organization has aspirations of avoiding the wasting of Year 1 of Cano’s 10-year deal. They should continue to support Zduriencik in his trek to make the 2014 Mariners (and beyond) a legitimate contender — something I did not believe was humanly possible by any GM when the offseason started.

The M’s currently have $66.6 million committed to seven players. One of those, left-hander Danny Hultzen, will not play in 2014. That leaves 19 spots to fill with a combination of free agents, trade acquisitions, team-controlled options already on the 40-man roster, plus three arbitration eligibles in Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Morrison.

Acquiring Tanaka could cost $80-100 million in total, and the club still has other needs on top of starting pitching, but signing Japan’s best available arm would be another huge step away from the bowels of mediocrity and toward the light of winning baseball, even in the competitive American League West. There’s no reason to hang your hat on Cano. Be better to hang it on a World Series Trophy, and, hey, Mariners, as-is, you aren’t getting one anytime soon.

Let Zduriencik continue the current path. You committed to him for 2014. You committed $240 million to Cano. Continue that support. It’s the only decision to make, if you haven’t made it already.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

30 Comments

  1. Merry Christmas to all, look what Santa brought us! Now available for auction action The Man With The Disappearing Splitter, Ma-Kun The Magnificent. Warning: Not there for the faint-hearted or those susceptible to pain from nine digit contracts. Go punk the Yankees Z and the world will cheer you. What good is all that new media money if you don’t spend it? Ma-Kun welcome to The Show, now come over and join our Cano.

  2. Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana on Masahiro Tanaka: “All I can say is that the correct information is that nothing has been decided.” From: Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker

    Hiroshi Mikitani Rakuten Golden Eagles owner: “We’re not planning on dragging this out. We want to give an answer quickly.” Source: sanspo.com

    Tanaka said to be deciding between agents Casey Close, Arn Tellem and Mark Pieper. From: Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker (Yahoo! Japan story seemed to emphasize the fact that Casey Close was Derek Jeter’s agent, perhaps indicating a Yankees predisposition. The good news is Boras is not named.)

  3. “We’re at a point where I think we are trying to do a few more things. I’m not sure that anything is going to be a huge splash. We have some options out there that we can either make a trade or could add another piece to it. I think that if we go for another large deal, that obviously is going to have to go above my head. And at this moment we are where we are, and we’re trying to make things work with what we have.” GM Jack Zduriencik on MLB Network’s Hot Stove

    “If the Mariners are done spending — if they truly are drawing the line after adding Cano and three lesser, oft-injured hitters — then the only thing that can be said about their plan is that there was no plan at all. Do the Mariners believe that Cano can almost single-handedly help the team’s young hitters improve? Do they think that their sophisticated fan base will be tricked into believing that this group of players will suddenly contend? That illusion should be shattered by the end of April, in a division that includes the Athletics, Rangers and Angels, all of whom could be significantly improved by Opening Day. Again: What are the M’s doing? What is the plan? And how will general manager Jack Zduriencik survive if the Mariners’ 2014 season disintegrates into another mess?” Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports

  4. If you think Maholm is a slug, then you don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s a league average pitcher. That’s valuable.

    By the way, if the M’s sign Tanaka (or Garza or Jimenez), they’d have 7 starters – Felix, Tanaka, Iwakuma, Walker, Paxton, Maurer, Ramirez = seven. If they add another starter, then two of those guys will get more seasoning time.

    Adding a starter on a huge contract with the expectation of trading them a year later isn’t smart. Especially if that pitcher is Garza, Jimenez, or Santana. All three have had problems with injuries or inconsistency. Its a great way to get stuck with an albatross contract.

    Regardless, where are the M’s going to get $30+ mil/year to sign two of those guys anyhow, plus fill in the rest of the holes on the team. We probably need to add a backup catcher and a decent bullpen arm (I like Chris Perez, Joel Hanrahan, or Jesse Crain). Its just not feasible or realistic.

  5. Sounds like the same old formula. If the kids aren’t ready, then what? Oh another slug in the rotation for a year. 75 wins. Like the Cardinals say, you need 7 starters to fill 5 spots. Like it’s going to hurt the prospects to get a little more seasoning time. Moving a contract like Garza and Jimenez will not be that hard, it’s the new market value.

  6. West Coast teams seem with what is being reported as having the best shot to sign Tanaka. Dodgers, M’s, Giants, Padres, Oakland all could land him.

    Padres you say!! Why not they have quietly built a much better team and adding Tanaka with Kennedy gives a solid 1-2 punch.

    Giants they don’t have the money! Take away the old posting system which could have been 75+mill and make it only 20 mill. They have a shot to add him and make one of the best rotations in baseball. Remember Zito’s contract is off the books now. And then Petit could be delt for a bat.

    Oakland HAHAHAHA? Oakland has just started to deal and do another round of turnovers. Add that there trying to gain ground on a new park eitehr via moving to a new city or the water front plan or total renovations. The A’s could have an influx of money in a few years.

    Dodgers, here we go again!! The money rich team has been rumored to be looking for another top end pitcher and this would fit the bill.

    Seattle, they spent it all on Cano?!?!?! The M’s figure to have enough to squeek in a guy like Tanaka and one mroe OF bat. Iwakuma could, maybe be an in and with no penalty for not signing him why not post the 20 Mill and see what happens. And put this team on the path to win the division next year.

  7. I suspect you are very wrong. his son-in-law runs Ninetendo of America and lives in Bellevue, last I heard.

  8. “Two things bear repeating. First: Tampa Bay understands that it doesn’t have to deal Price. It has room in its budget for him this season. If the Rays underachieve, he can go for a copious return at the trade deadline, and if they’re still among the lords of the AL East, he can find a new home next winter. Second: The Seattle Mariners can very easily get this done if they include starter Taijuan Walker, a maneuver sources said they’ve begun considering internally within the last week.” Source: Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports I sure hope that “source” has been on the sauce and is full of it up to their ears. That would be dumb, compounded by stupid, multiplied by ignorant.

  9. I completely disagree.

    If we added two high-cost starters (which us probably impossible due to the $$$ involved), those guys WOULD block the youngsters. And if two or more of the four MLB ready starters in the org prove they are ready for a promotion (which is already the case with Walker, Paxton, and Ramirez), you’d be stuck with them in AAA or the bullpen till at least the trade deadline. Even then, moving a contract like the one Garza and Jimenez will require isn’t easy. Especially if they aren’t dominant in the first half.

    The rationale for signing a guy like Maholm is that he’s cheap, a great fit for Safeco, and won’t block the young starters on the team. Those guys are ready now, but adding a bit of depth is a good idea. this is all a moot point, since I think it’s highly unlikely the M’s are going to spend the $30+ million per year it would cost to add two of the top starters on the market. But even if they could, I’d argue that money is best spent elsewhere.

    Here’s what I’d like to see: sign Tanaka, Rusney Castillo, and Paul Maholm, then trade Franklin to TOR for Anthony Gose, maybe as part of a package with a starter. That team could win a lot of games next year.

  10. The Tanaka news/rumors get better:

    “If it is accurate that Tanaka prefers to play on the West Coast, then the Dodgers and Mariners might have an advantage beyond their available dollars. Tanaka would be a great fit for the Giants in a lot of ways – they need young starting pitching; he could be marketable for them; they’re one of MLB’s most flush teams; they’d keep him away from the Dodgers, etc. – but it’s unclear whether San Francisco would consider that type of investment.”

  11. I think Maurer has great stuff and plenty of potential. That said, I don’t think he’s done a thing to show he deserves a shot at this time. That’s why I’m for signing 2 experienced starters. Once a couple of the prospects proves he’s here to stay, there is always a trade market for a decent, experienced starter. Say we signed Garza/Jimenez and after a year or less, Paxton, Walker, Maurer show they are ready to get the big boys out. I can envision a trade market for Garza or Jimenez, or Iwakuma, as long as they pitch like they can. Now if we sign Saunders, Bonderman, Haruang, Maholm, Capuano types, then not so much. Actually nothing, we couldn’t trade Saunders or Harang last year. Maholm had a good first half and melted after that. There’s no one standing in line to go get him now. Another point I’m trying to make is the youngsters often get promoted without really proving they deserve it. That’s because of our lack of depth. Build depth and then may the best man win.

  12. I wouldn’t mind seeing them sign someone like Paul Maholm for depth as well. He’s underrated, and would be a good #4 starter if Walker/Paxton/Ramirez/Maurer stumble a bit.

    And don’t sleep on Maurer. Nobody is talking about him, but he’s got great stuff and could be a solid, cheap back end starter. Th M’s rushed him last year, but he’s got talent. He could easily steal one of the spots at the back end of the rotation.

    With Walker, Paxton, Ramirez, and Maurer all at the cusp of the big leagues, and Tyler Pike, Edwin Diaz, Luiz Gohara, and Victor Sanchez in the mid to lower levels of the system, we have very good pitching depth.

  13. Given the new posting system, it would be in the best interest of all 30 teams to offer the $20 million posting fee. Even if most teams know they have no shot negotiating a deal with Tanaka, this allows them the opportunity to say they tried. In the case of the Mariners, this should absolutely be the top priority for them the rest of the offseason. Yes, the cost will be higher given the new system, but this is a pitcher worth paying the price for, especially given the remaining free agent options. Is he going to be Yu Darvish? Good chance he isn’t. But, having control of a pitcher through his prime years is huge, and he could very well be a No. 2/No. 3 type starter. Felix, Iwakuma, Tanaka, Ramirez, Walker/Paxton sounds like a good rotation to open the season to me.

  14. The pitching staff will be much better with a defense behind them. You start ackley and hart in the outfield and its gonna be rough. Hart should dh we should have learned from last year. I sure hope they let gutti go to another team. Even if you get him on a 1 yr 1 mil deal it doesnt matter hes never on the field. We need somebody to get on base for cano to drive in.

  15. I think Jason is right, you can’t go all in on Cano and then sweep up the budget sewer water. I can envision Tanaka getting more than $70 in this market where there’s 4 starters available. I feel that with Safeco, the M’s should strive to have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Pitching is always #1, and picking up Harangs, Saunders, Bonderman is such a waste of time and money. Yes I know why they did it. It’s over, time for the pitching staff to blow people out of the water. Sign Tanaka and Jimenez or Garza. Go for the gusto JZ.

  16. All good points rjfrik, I agree with you. I just wonder if Jack has almost run out of money to spend. I know he keeps his cards held close to the vest, and maybe he is just trying to keep expectations low and not get our hopes up, but his recent public comments lead me to believe there won’t be any big moves that require a huge increase in payroll.

    Where is that meddling Japanese ownership that forced the ugly Kenji Johjima extension on us a few years ago? 🙂

    Even though the owner passed away, the family still controls the team, living in Japan, if they got caught up in the Tanaka hype you just never know…

    Hey, after signing Cano we are allowed to dream.

  17. “I think finding a good CF should be the 1st priority.”

    Why? If you look at the M’s performance last year and likely projections for next year, it’s pretty clear that they can add more wins by improving the rotation.

    Last year, the M’s got great production from Felix and Kuma and nothing from the rest of the rotation. Both Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang were worth 0.6 WAR. Everyone else in the rotation was basically replacement level. The M’s should improve on that, as guys like Walker, Paxton, Ramirez, and Maurer are capable of better performances than last year. But expecting those guys to fill three spots in the rotation is crazy, and any club needs six capable starters over the course of the season.

    Replacing the worst of those guys with Tanaka would probably give the M’s a ~3 WAR boost. Maybe more, as it’s unrealistic to expect more than two of those guys to provide lots of innings of good pitching. Three wins is a big boost, plus the addition of a starter of that caliber improves depth and probably helps the bullpen (when the odd man out works in long relief). With pitching, adding a very good starter produces a domino effect.

    Adding a guy like Rasmus wouldn’t provide the same boost over what we currently have. Rasmus, Jackson, and Gardner are all appx 3 win players. Even if the M’s stand pat, an OF of Saunders, Ackley, Almonte, Hart, and Morrison should provide decent production. Saunders and Ackley are probably 1.5-2 win guys, with some upside. Hart could be anywhere from a non factor to a major contributor based on his recovery from injury. If the M’s brought back Gutierrez (another unreliable but potentially excellent player), they’d likely get ~5-6 WAR from the OF.

    Even if they add a 4 win player to the OF, it’s only likely to give us a 1-2 WAR improvement. That improvement over what we already have isn’t likely to match the difference that adding Tanaka would represent.

    All of this is moot, since adding any of this three wouldn’t necessarily negate the possibility of signing Tanaka. But in terms of adding wins, Tanaka would help the M’s more than Rasmus.

  18. I think finding a good CF should be the 1st priority. With the defense they have now it wont matter who is pitching. Try to trade for a Rasmus, A Jackson, Gardner type player to play CF.Im all for Tanaka as long as it doesnt keep us from getting a CF

  19. Tanaka is the M’s next best move. It’s as necessary as Jason has pointed out but it wont be cheap. I think he’ll get nine figures from whoever he signs with and that doesn’t include his posting, or what is now being called “transfer” fee. The Mariners play in a pitchers park, if they don’t have the pitchers to take advantage of that Cano can’t help them get to the promised land. Tanaka fills the void between our two All-Star arms and our two rookies ready to ride. He could play with Walker and/or Paxton for six or seven years and with Felix included they would rival the Braves and A’s rotations of a decade or so ago. They have a shot, the Yankees have restrictions from the luxury tax and A-Rods uncertain fate, the Angels have a luxury tax threshold they are close to already and the M’s probably gave more payroll space than the Rangers. The Cubs and just possibly the Dodgers might be the main competition before it’s over. This, after the Cano signing, is the one thing that will get fans back on the bandwagon. It would only be a matter of time before they are a playoff caliber team. If fans see them spending like they care about winning it’s going to be hard to deny that they do. Given what the current free agent arms are asking for he’s a damn bargain. Go Z … Fetch!

  20. Do we actually know that they are friends? Teammate doesn’t equal friend.

    As far as any rumored Seattle interest in Tanaka, I think that basically every mid to large market team will be interested. The Yankees are the team most often linked to him, but that’s the case with practically every big-name free agent. From what I’ve read, it’s more speculation than real rumors at this point. Clubs like the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels, and Dodgers will always be “linked” to top players.

  21. I hope that Iwakuma/Seattle connection will work magic. Because we certainly aren’t going to outbid the Yankees!

  22. I’m not Jason, but the comp I’ve heard most with Tanaka is Hiroki Kuroda, and it goes beyond the facile limitation of comps to only Japanese guys. Tanaka, Iwakuma, and Kuroda are all pretty similar in that they are all fastball/splitter/slider pitchers and similar physically at around 6’2″m 210. However from what I’ve read about Tanaka he seems a lot more similar to Kuroda in terms of stuff and approach. Both have better velocity than Iwakma (91-93 versus 88-91 for Kuma) with plus command and good split finger FB. And that skill set has worked great for Kuroda, who has been excellent in his six years in MLB. From the scouting reports, the separator for Tanaka is the splitter, which some have called the best split in baseball and a true out pitch.

    So, basically, Tanaka is a 25-year-old version of Kuroda, with a better splitter. Or Iwakuma with better velocity and a better out pitch. That’s a damn good #2 starter.

  23. I think the M’s are the dark horse to sign Tanaka. No one in the media is talking about the M’s having interest. But it’s widely known that the M’s have interest in signing another front line starter and their was rampant speculation that the M’s would go get Price. Why trade away assets when you can go sign one and one that is only 25 years old and could be an anchor in your rotation for the next 6 years. And yes I know Tanaka would have to want to play for Seattle. But Seattle has a leg up on the other teams and that leg up is Iwakuma, Tanaka’s old teammate. They both played on the Eagles together and if I’m Tanaka, I look at how well Iwakuma pitched in Seattle, I look at the direction of the club, the proximity of the city to Japan and the fact that I would once again be partnered with my friend Iwakuma in the rotation. That is a very nice leg up.

  24. Jason,
    Would you please compare Tanaka to Kuma in terms of stuff and control?
    thanks.

  25. Why would going after Tanaka mean ignoring other possibilities?

    This isn’t an issue at all, since Tanaka is holding up the market for Garza, Santana, Jimenez, Price and Samardzija. Once he signs (or it becomes clear he won’t be posted), the other dominos will fall. Probably really quickly.

    Having Tanaka as Plan A wouldn’t negate other options. You’re creating a false either/or dichotomy where one doesn’t exist.

  26. Yup. For me, this is the best move of the offseason. The additions of Cano, Hart, and Morrison just make it more of a no brainer: they need to go all-in for this guy.

    I think everyone agrees that the M’s need another starter. So the decision is between signing Tanaka, Garza, Jimenez, or Santana, or making a trade for David Price or Jeff Samardzija. The best Bargain guys – Brett Anderson, Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren, and Josh Johnson – are already off the board. It’s really just those six options if the M’s really want to improve.

    For the free agents, those guys should cost somewhere in the range of $15 mil/yr for 4-5 yrs. Garza is the safer bet, and won’t cost a draft pick, while Jimenez is the upside guy. I’d steer clear of Santana. The trade options would both cost a ton, likely inclyding Taijuan Walker. No thanks. Why creat a hole in the rotation and lose an elite young pitcher for a short-term upgrade?

    Tanaka is the best option because he’s arguably the best among the trio of him, Garza, and Jimenez, and won’t cost us a draft pick. Although the M’s would likely have to overpay a bit, Tanaka is only 25 and will still be in his prime even if the M’s have to go six years.

    I’d offer him 6/90 mil, and sell him on the geographical proximity to Japan, large local population, mellow environment, and strong history of success for Japanese players in Seattle. Plus, they can point to the offseason moves made towards improving the team, and chance to pitch in a very good rotation and good pitchers ballpark. Maybe Iwakuma could even help with the sales pitch.

    It just makes too much sense. This is the guy they need. A rotation of Felix, Iwakuma, Tanaka, and two of Walker/Paxton/Maurer/Jimenez would be really formidable.

  27. I don’t think it should be the primary plan, expecially if you are ignoring other FA possibilities. You put all your eggs in one basket, you may regret it.

  28. The M’s are no longer have Japanese ownership. Nintendo of America has the ownership headed by H. Lincoln.

    However I think adding Tanaka is better that any of the free agent pitchers out there and at his age of 25 makes a lot of sense.

  29. It think you 70 million figure to sign Tanaka is low. With such a low 20 million dollar posting fee, more teams will get involved. The Yankees need pitching and after getting outbid by Seattle (and Kansas City!) I can see such a low figure outbidding them again. Then, if teams like the Dodgers or Red Sox get the itch to sign him, things really get crazy. I could see him signing for 110/6 in this environment. I have no idea how good he is, but as an insider Jason, is Tanaka still worth it at these prices?

    Our best hope to sign him is our Japanese ownership, good relations with Japan, and history of signing Japanese players. Seattle is a desirable place to live and visit for the Japanese, and we have a great pitchers ballpark.

    I see the team making an effort to bring him here, but it is not going o be easy or come cheap. I wonder if his posting fee and salary would not count as part of their self imposed salary cap?

  30. Nothing is ever a sure bet. But this seems to be a calculated gamble where the risk is as minimal as you can make it, and it adds talent to a team that needs it, and it sure as hell will engender some excitement among the fan base.

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