12/25/2013 6:45 P.M. ET
Yanks ready to go all-in on Tanaka -- and they need to
Without Japanese star pitcher, New York would struggle to contend in potent AL East
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
If the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka, their offseason will have been a dazzling success. Or maybe it's more appropriate to look at this thing from another angle. That is, if the Yanks don't sign Tanaka, they will not have succeeded in positioning themselves to finish ahead of the Red Sox and Rays in the American League East. Isn't it about that simple?
Even as the Yankees committed almost $300 million in the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, they still had unfinished business. At the moment, their rotation is CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and possibly Michael Pineda and David Phelps.
If you look at that rotation from a certain angle, the Yankees could still win the AL East. To do that, Sabathia must figure out how to get by with diminished velocity. He probably is going to need to do that regardless of what happens with Tanaka. But seeing the Yanks' rotation from this angle probably is unrealistic.
In addition, Nova must have a second straight solid year, and Pineda, who hasn't started a game since Sept. 21, 2011, will have to prove his right shoulder is again sound.
From the beginning of this offseason, the Yankees have seemed to put all their chips on adding Tanaka to their rotation. Their assessment may change if they can't sign him, but so far, they've shown no interest in Matt Garza and Ervin Santana, the best of the remaining free-agent starters.
Tanaka is 25 years old and coming off a 212-inning season in which he walked 32 and struck out 183. He may not ever be as dominant as his buddy, Yu Darvish, but in the course of a 24-0 season, scouts have been effusive in their praise of his stuff and his poise.
To insert Tanaka alongside Sabathia, Nova and Kuroda would give the Yankees' rotation a far different look. Suddenly, it's one that might just be able to match up with the Rays and Red Sox.
The Yankees will still have questions about third base and the health of Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, but Tanaka seemingly would go a long way toward getting them back to the postseason.
Maybe that's why Tanaka signing with the Yankees has seemed like such a foregone conclusion. Now with the bidding scheduled to begin on Thursday morning, it'll be interesting to see how quickly the Yanks are able to close the deal and what the final price will be.
And it'll be interesting to see what other clubs get into the mix. The Diamondbacks would have postseason expectations if they pulled off a surprise and added Tanaka to their staff.
Likewise, the Rangers, who've already had a tremendous offseason, seem likely to at least make an offer. Tanaka and Darvish are said to be friends and workout partners. To pair them up could create an appealing comfort level for both players. And his signing might make the Rangers the best team in the big leagues.
Others? The Dodgers seem likely to make a run at Tanaka, and while they apparently have the cash to go toe to toe with the Yankees, the level of their interest is not known.
After that, there are an assortment of teams that could pull off the upset. The Cubs have been mentioned by some. The Giants, Mariners, Astros and Tigers would also make sense on some level.
Again, though, the Yanks are expected to be aggressive in attempting to close a deal, and while there may be a price they're not comfortable with -- see: Cano, Robinson, new Mariner -- Tanaka might be seen as the final piece to their 2014 club.
It's unlikely the Yankees could sign Tanaka and remain under their self-imposed $189 million luxury-tax threshold. On the other hand, they've emphasized that it was only a loose guideline and that they intend to be back in contention in 2014.
To do that, Tanaka's signing would seem to be a must. At the beginning of this process, it seems headed toward an inevitable conclusion. But that's what plenty of us thought about Cano's free agency as well.
So let the fun begin. This has already been a wild offseason with surprising signings and trades and big money being thrown around here, there and everywhere. Let's do it one more time.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.