Masahiro Tanaka and the Red Sox: A match made somewhere besides where matches are made

Chung Sung-Jun

Could the Red Sox make a run at the best pitcher available?

Yesterday at Boston.com, the excellent Chad Finn made a suggestion I haven't heard anywhere else. He suggested the Red Sox take a run at Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is the 25-year-old Japanese starting pitching star who might or might not be posted depending on the way the winds are blowing. Whether or not Tanaka gets posted is out of the Red Sox control, but the idea is still an intriguing one because, six starters or not, who couldn't use another young, top of the rotation starter? The Red Sox sure could. They won't fall apart if they don't get one like maybe some other teams might, but it sure as heck can't hurt.

This all crystalized for me when I read Ben Buchanan's piece here at OTM yesterday. The gist of it is this: the Red Sox have talent to spend and money to spend and, despite a large payroll dedicated to this upcoming season, flexibility out the wazoo. They can really add almost what ever they want. The issue isn't whether or not they have the pieces to acquire a big player with or without a big payroll, the issue is whether they want to do it or not. They have the means.

I've been vocal about the Red Sox going after Giancarlo Stanton here at OTM. On those numerous occasions we've had spirited conversations in the comments section about what is too much to give up, is the player worth the cost, etc. The issue has never been 'they can't because they just don't have the dough.' They do. They've got the dough. They can get a Stanton, or whomever is available (that's part of the key there, 'available') because they can afford both the cost in prospects and the cost in player salary that such a deal would necessitate.

Leaving aside that I just compared Tanaka to Stanton, the thing about Tanaka is that he won't cost prospects. The Sox can keep those bullets in their gun for later. Tanaka is effectively a free agent, even with the posting process (assuming his team puts him up for bid), so he'll only cost the Red Sox money, and the Red Sox have that.

There are a couple of issues here. First, do the Red Sox really want to give out another long-term, big money contract to a free agent (effectively speaking)? Didn't last season show us the fallacy of that strategy? Last October I looked at some of the long-term deals and extensions the Red Sox have given out over the years, and concluded thusly:

...sometimes [long term contracts] are a bad idea. But sometimes they aren't. [...] it isn't the contract that is the real problem, it's who you give that contract to. That's what makes the real difference.

I'll stand by that today. Long-term deals are much riskier than short term deals, so you deploy them with great care, but a smart organization won't remove that arrow from the quiver entirely. There will come a time when the Red Sox will need to lock up a very good player long term, like they just did with Dustin Pedroia.

163368085Photo credit: Koji Watanabe

Second, is it smart to spend money on another starting pitcher, even one like Tanaka? The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury despite having Brett Gardner on the roster. The Mariners signed Robinson Cano despite having Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley. This isn't to hold up the Yankees and Mariners as the most enlightened organizations worthy of total emulation, just to say that when presented with what you consider to be a great talent, you don't let moderately talented players stand in the way. The Red Sox shouldn't let Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster stand in the way of acquiring Tanaka. Worst case they have depth, and best case they can deal one or both for a return that further helps the team on the field.

I realize that I'm 600+ words in and I haven't said anything about who Tanaka is or why he's so great. I also realize that Red Sox fans might not be so eager to go through the posting process for a star Japanese pitcher again anytime soon. I get that, but Daisuke Matsuzaka is not Masahiro Tanaka. As to Tanaka himself, Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness has a great piece up including quotes from scouts and GMs that should help you get up to speed on who we're talking about here. But the short of it is Tanaka is a very talented, 24-year-old starter in Japan who went 24-0 (I know, wins, right? But 24-0 is nuts!) with a 1.24 ERA and a ton of strikeouts and not so many walks. Here's a video of Tanaka striking out everything ever.

The guy is super young and super good. That's not the kind of thing you often get access to on the open market. The Red Sox have a scouting department and a budget and a ton of young pitchers coming up through the system, so the need isn't extreme by any stretch. But, wow, it sure would be exciting to grab a guy like Tanaka, wouldn't it? What's the old saying? If you're not improving you're getting worse? That maybe overstates things a bit, but Tanaka would make the Red Sox better, both right now and in the years to come. He'd leave the farm system untouched, and the influx of cheap talent would help alleviate any burden placed on the team by his salary. The more I think about it, the better it sounds.

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