• The Tanaka Factor

    I'll say this much for Masahiro Tanaka: his timing is good. The Japenese star just put together the best statistical season for a pitcher in NPB history, and will be coming to the States just as Major League Baseball is receiving a massive influx of revenue from new media deals.

    Tanaka has been on an incredible run. After starring for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in the spring, he went 22-0 with a 1.23 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. At season's end, he came on as closer to protect a one-run lead in his team's pennant-clinching victory.

    He's a star on the level of Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo. He's only 24 years old. He has filed for international free agency. And there are plenty of major-league teams ready to spend big on pitching.

    The Twins are one of them.

    There are several reasons to believe the Twins will be active players for Tanaka this winter. Jim Pohlad has repeatedly insisted that he is more than open to aggressive financial measures in order to improve the club, while Terry Ryan has been typically wary of the free agent route.

    Ryan's main concern -- one that has been echoed by Pohlad -- is that there's great peril in handing high-dollar multi-year contracts to aging pitchers, who are notoriously susceptible to injury and decline.

    But of course, Tanaka is just entering his physical prime. He is only 15 months older than Alex Meyer, the organization's top pitching prospect. And his success in the Nippon Pro Baseball league has been otherworldly. In seven seasons, he is 95-35 with a 2.32 ERA, 52 complete games and 18 shutouts. He is renowned for his outstanding command, and his featured split-finger fastball is considered by scouts to be a plus major-league pitch.

    Of course, dominant numbers in Japan don't always portend effectiveness in the majors. The Twins have seen that on some level with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but the more relevant cases would be players like Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. There's plenty of risk involved, especially when you consider that Tanaka could well command an investment that rivals (or even exceeds) the $112 million shelled out by Texas for Darvish two years ago.

    The Rangers' contract with Darvish is for six years and $60 million -- hardly outrageous by MLB standards -- but Texas also needed to win bidding rights with a $52 million posting fee for the hurler's Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.

    Undoubtedly, the Golden Eagles are licking their chops anticipating the bids that might come in for Tanaka given his age and status. Several large-market major-league teams appear poised to spend heavily on starting pitching this offseason, most notably the New York Yankees.

    As the posting system for Japanese players involves blind bids, Ryan and the Twins would need to send out a very, very significant offer in order to have a legitimate chance of landing the pinnacle of the international market.

    Could they be gun-shy about playing this game? That would be understandable, since they were burned on the Nishioka deal. Then again, they must feel some sense of remorse for missing out on Hisashi Iwakuma, for whom they finished runner up in the post bidding back in 2010. The Twins clearly had interest in Iwakuma but didn't do what it took to bring him in, and they've since watched him go 23-11 with a 2.84 ERA in two seasons with Seattle.

    The cost to claim Tanaka will be in another realm entirely from Nishioka (winning bid: $5 million) or Iwakuma ($19 million). I suspect he may break the current record held by Darvish at $51.7 million. That's an awful lot of money to pay simply to negotiate with a player, at which point the Twins would have to make another massive financial commitment.

    Perhaps too spicy a pepper to swallow. There's not much in the history of the franchise or the commanding GM to suggest that such a splashy play would be on the table. But with the Twins admitting they have surplus money to spend, and with Tanaka fitting so well into their emerging timeline, I wouldn't be surprised if the club made a bid they feel is quite aggressive in order to take a shot at the intriguing righty.

    Whether or not that's aggressive enough isn't in their hands. It could very well turn out that the Twins' ability to gamble on Tanaka is dictated more by the level of interest from other (far richer) teams than their own.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Tanaka Factor started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 138 Comments
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      I think the Twins will go after him. And I think they will be aggressive. However, I don't think they can compete with the AL or NL West on this one. $100M would be a pretty aggressive investment for MN ($40 to post; $60 to sign). Texas and LAA both have to be feeling desperate about now, and LAD seem to have no spending limit (like the Yankees of old). Sprinkle in a dash of Sea or Oak, and someone will decide to go over $100 for their total investment. I don't think MN will.
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      I think it will be more like $60M to post and $65M to sign. $125M total investment.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Zephrin View Post
      I think it will be more like $60M to post and $65M to sign. $125M total investment.
      I think you're very close. I see the Yankees or Dodgers.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      He is a pipe dream for Twins fans. We have already been prompted that the 5+year contracts
      are a "no-sale". Any team will require at least a six-year contract in order to amortize the cost of the bidding fee adequately. Then there is the annual salary...
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      The Twins could easily afford to sign him. They just won't. Not a whole lot of analysis required.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      This is going to be 6 years and $120 million total. Maybe even pushing to $132 million.

      There is no planet on which the Twins are going to do anything like this. And it's unfortunate.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I think we can take the highest bids to this point (~50m), add on the 25m of free t.v. money, sprinkle in a little inflation for the string of successful Japanese pitchers we've seen since the Dice-K bust (Uehara, Tazawa, Darvish, Iwakuma) and that puts the winning posting fee in the 80-90m range.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      This is going to be 6 years and $120 million total. Maybe even pushing to $132 million.

      There is no planet on which the Twins are going to do anything like this. And it's unfortunate.
      I agree that the Twins are unlikely to do this, but don't agree that it's unfortunate. It seems to me that there are probably better ways to spend $120 million+. Some of the Japanese pitchers have been good and some have not. I was optimistic when the Twins signed Nishi -- it seemed to me that at worst Nishi would be decent. I was wrong. And the Tanaka proponents could now be wrong.

      I think that it might be smarter to spend the big bucks on one of more of the Cuban prospects and/or free agents. Yes, Tanaka seems promising, but if the cost is going to be $120+ million, it might be smarter to spread that over 2 or 3 players rather than bet so big on one.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I agree that the Twins are unlikely to do this, but don't agree that it's unfortunate. It seems to me that there are probably better ways to spend $120 million+. Some of the Japanese pitchers have been good and some have not. I was optimistic when the Twins signed Nishi -- it seemed to me that at worst Nishi would be decent. I was wrong. And the Tanaka proponents could now be wrong.

      I think that it might be smarter to spend the big bucks on one of more of the Cuban prospects and/or free agents. Yes, Tanaka seems promising, but if the cost is going to be $120+ million, it might be smarter to spread that over 2 or 3 players rather than bet so big on one.
      I agree there is always a walk away price. In a year or so, he would be at best our 4th best player and we can get a better starting pitcher in the deep 2014 draft. Also, Stewart is more highly rated, and maybe Meyer.
    1. scottz's Avatar
      scottz -
      And there are plenty of major-league teams ready to spend big on pitching.

      The Twins are one of them.
      I'd say this quote is half right. The first half.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      I don't see the posting fee breaking 40 million by that much. only one team was willing to post 50 million when Yu posted. wasn't second place around 30 million? The only team with that kind of money available not in Minnesota is the Yankees and they are drawing back. the dodgers are saving for Kershaw, the Rangers are near their 125 million target and the angels are near theirs too. I wouldn't be surprised if the winning bid was between 20-30 million. a 5 year 60 - 70 million contract with a 6th option would make sense for the Twins. I do think the total cost to get Tanaka will be around 100 million.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Grabbing Tanaka would give the Twins a real chance at signing Kazmir, I believe.
      It would show that the Twins are serious about turning things around.

      With Kazmir, Tanaka and the prospects we have coming, I think we could become a reasonably attractive landing spot for some FAs who want to play on a winner.

      Those moves would be pretty much unprecedented for this GM, but I continue to be an optimist.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      If it unfolds as Brandon describes then this lines up very well. If the Twins lose out because their attempt/offer stinks it will be incredibly hard to stomach. Like Nick stated, they would be rolling the dice on a guy entering his prime and not a 30ish FA. It could be such a huge acquisition to help bridge between this current team and the line up the Twins should have 2015 and beyond. If he worked out he could help make them relevant faster and rejuvenate the fan base. Come on....one time.
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brandon View Post
      I don't see the posting fee breaking 40 million by that much. only one team was willing to post 50 million when Yu posted. wasn't second place around 30 million? The only team with that kind of money available not in Minnesota is the Yankees and they are drawing back. the dodgers are saving for Kershaw, the Rangers are near their 125 million target and the angels are near theirs too. I wouldn't be surprised if the winning bid was between 20-30 million. a 5 year 60 - 70 million contract with a 6th option would make sense for the Twins. I do think the total cost to get Tanaka will be around 100 million.
      I thought the posting fee didn't count against the cap or am I mistaken about that? So the Yankees or Dodgers or Angels could spend whatever they thought they needed to win the bid and getting a high quality pitcher for 10-12 million per year shouldn't break the bank for them. I am no scout but I think he looks good enough for high market teams to be interested and with the TV money coming in this will be a bigger offer than normal.

      I really don't think the Twins can play with the big boys on this one. I really, really want the guy as it appears he could make us relevant in the very short term. TR has never proven good at these types of things because he places logical value on players vs performance. I don't think his brain can stretch far enough for Tanaka. Add in the unknown TV revenue effect and it makes it even harder to get this done. I think the Twins will put in a good bid but it won't be enough.
    1. zenser's Avatar
      zenser -
      I think Terry Ryan likes to use the line from Full Metal Jacket when negotiating with free agents. "Five dollars is all my mom allows me to spend."

      Basically, I have a better chance of being in the rotation than Tanaka and I was the 4th man in a two man rotation in little league. I did have the dream once that they would actually pursue him hard and be in the running, but then I woke up. It wont happen.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      If 6 years and $125 is acceptable for Tanaka, why wouldn't we look at signing Sanchez or even a guy like Price when he becomes a free agent?

      The Twins will NOT go here if that is the price.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      The trick to winning this one is winning the posting fee. After that, only the winner can negotiate with Tanaka, and the contract will typically run 5/6 years for an amount fairly similar to the posting fee. This is a bit different than competing with the big boys, their initial offer simply has to be the highest. If they want him, throwing 50-60M at the posting fee will likely get it done.

      If we are serious about him, I like our odds here much better than I do going after a Hughes, Kazmir, or Johnson, not to mention he fits in with the coming youth movement. Traiditional FAs can go back and forth until they get the contract they want and other teams stop bidding.
    1. FSP's Avatar
      FSP -
      If the Twins are smart they will post insanely high since that is the only time they will actually be competing with other teams, unless that posting rule changed. The player contract itself will be very reasonable since Tanaka has no leverage and it is easy to pay more than the NPB does. I'd go as high as about 80 million on the posting, its not like the money will be spent on anything else next year anyways.
    1. SpitefulRabbit617's Avatar
      SpitefulRabbit617 -
      I'd rather take a flyer and overpay on Lincecum, Santana, Haren, someone else or some1 else 2.0. If they money for pitching can be done just with that High expected posting fee, why just throw it away when we can get some1 who understands english well enough and is able to work with his teammates out of the ballgames? That just seems far smarter than spending the imaginary money that the Pohlads will theoretically drop.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      To be fair, Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty good his first two years. He threw 200+ innings those two years. Then all the wear and tear from pitching so much in Japan added up and he was never 100% again after that. His second year, he went 18-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

      I'm not against the Twins going after Tanaka because it's not my money. But, you could get two very good #2s for the same money.
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