Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka is the crown jewel of Major League Baseball’s free agent market this offseason, after his Nippon Professional Baseball team officially posted him on the market last week. And the Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly among as many as 25 teams who have interest in pursuing him.
Most of the teams considered frontrunners for Tanaka, however, have seemingly deeper pockets than the Diamondbacks, however, despite the organization’s commitment to booking the highest payroll in the franchise history next season.
But the mere fact that a deal with Tanaka hasn’t yet closed, according to MLB.com columnist Richard Justice, bodes well for the Diamondbacks and other less-moneyed teams who may be in pursuit of the 25-year-old pitcher.
“Every day that goes on is not good news for the Yankees,” Justice told Arizona Sports 620’s Hot Stove Show on Monday. “I think the Yankees were consensus favorites when this started. I think they built their whole offseason around getting him.”
The New York Yankees indeed were, and are, thought to be Tanaka’s top suitors, but the money available to spend on him stands subject to whatever sum they’ll end up owing the suspended Alex Rodriguez moving forward. And perhaps that’s the reason they’ve failed to reach a deal with him to date.
“When they want a guy, when they’re aggressive, thrashing around, they normally can close it early,” Justice explained. “So, to not close it early leads to everyone guessing — what’s the kid want to do?
“He could end up at one of 25 teams and not surprise anybody. I think he’s going to get whatever money wants, so he’s going to have to decide where he wants to pitch.”
Could that location be Chase Field? Will the Diamondbacks be able to match the offers of other teams, since Tanaka will be able to “get whatever money he wants,” as Justice put it.
“In Phoenix, in Arizona, people are thinking, ‘OK, what does our team have to offer?'” Justice went on.
“You have a model front office, you have a great ownership, you have a team president that’s one of the most respected guys in the game, you have a manager that demands things to be done right, you have a good clubhouse and a great place to live, so you just don’t know.”
To date, the largest free agent signing in Diamondbacks history came back in 1999, when the team signed Randy Johnson to a four-year, $52 million deal. Tanaka, meanwhile, is expected to garner more than $100 million with whatever team ends up signing him, making it difficult to foresee a scenario in which the franchise would realistically compete in the pitcher’s sweepstakes.