D-backs went all-in to try to woo Tanaka to Arizona
Japanese right-hander accepts seven-year, $155 million deal from New York
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks were clearly disappointed they did not land free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but they certainly could not be faulted for the effort they put into the chase.
Tanaka accepted a seven-year, $155 million deal from the Yankees on Wednesday morning.
That it was a big-market team that came away with him was not a surprise, but what was noteworthy is the D-backs say their offer to Tanaka was close to that of the Yankees.
For a team in a much smaller market to have been one of the finalists along with major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles was eye-opening.
"I think we were very close," D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall said. "We made a very, very competitive offer. It was just nice for us to be playing with the big boys and I think we did a nice job of illustrating who we were to the player. I think he had a nice sense of our organizational culture and our commitment to winning, and I think in the end we made his decision a difficult one."
From the very beginning, the D-backs pursued Tanaka hard.
They offered to fly to Japan to meet with Tanaka and his family, and with Hall in Australia promoting the Opening Series with the Dodgers, the D-backs also proposed flying Tanaka to Sydney to meet with team officials there and tour the historic Sydney Cricket Ground where Tanaka could have pitched the opener had he signed with Arizona.
Tanaka's representatives, however, had each team meet with him in California and kept the process very uniform.
"In the end, they kept everything consistent with all the clubs, which it should have been," Hall said.
In an effort to differentiate themselves, the D-backs brought All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to their meeting with Tanaka and let him talk about what it was like to play for the D-backs.
"Goldy has been such a great representative for the Diamondbacks," Hall said. "He took time to explain to Masahiro why Arizona would be a great place to play, the opportunities that arise with a team like ours and the impact he could have made right away. Goldy expressed himself very well. So when a player like Goldy sits in a room with a prospective free agent and speaks from the heart about what he loves about this organization and how he would like for him to be his teammate, I think it does have impact."
As part of their pitch to sway Tanaka, the D-backs talked about the family atmosphere within the organization, while pointing out the state-of-the-art facilities at both their Salt River Fields spring home and Chase Field.
Knowing they were likely up against larger market teams, the D-backs tried to have that work for them.
"His privacy would be appreciated and respected in our market," Hall said. "We tried to clearly express all that and I know that we did. There was nothing more than we could have done. From start to finish, we got creative."
And, it turns out, they also dug deep when it came to finances.
After general manager Kevin Towers told managing general partner Ken Kendrick how valuable Tanaka could be to the franchise, Kendrick was willing to stretch the budget.
"Ken's willingness as K.T. and I would go back to him and restructure or try to add to it and try to stay involved and stay close, his willingness to allow us to do so was remarkable," Hall said. "He needs to be complimented and I hope people realize how committed this man is to trying to continue putting a winning product on the field."
The D-backs had a little flexibility with their payroll thanks to deferred contract payments being all but off their books and the expectation of more revenue in the next couple of years when their television contract expires.
"This is not money that we had this past year or in the past," Hall said. "It's an anticipated increase in revenues. It was banking on the fact that -- and it's been out there -- that our television situation is going to change dramatically. With that, we were able to spread our wings a bit. We're not just going to spend to spend, we're going to spend in a way that we think is responsible and will improve the ballclub."
Having not landed Tanaka, the D-backs are now likely to go into Spring Training with a rotation of Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy with Archie Bradley and Randall Delgado the leading competitors for the No. 5 spot.
Arizona would still like to land a frontline starter, but Towers has expressed hesitation in handing out more than three-year deals to any of the free-agent pitchers still on the market.
"Are we still comfortable with the roster we have now?" Hall said. "The answer is clearly yes, but when you have a rare opportunity like this -- knowing you're not going to lose a Draft pick, having him under control for at least four or five years -- you're willing to go for it. This is the biggest offer we've ever made for any player and it was the largest commitment we were willing to make to the point of almost discomfort. In the back of your mind you're always worried that the larger markets are always going to outbid you."
At least, though, the D-backs gave it their best effort.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.