Masahiro Tanaka rumors: Red Sox in touch with Japanese ace

Koji Watanabe

The Red Sox might not have an obvious need for him, but there's no reason to ignore Tanaka.

Masahiro Tanaka is far and away the top option on this winter's market for starting pitchers, so, even though the Red Sox are drowning in rotation options, they're still keeping an eye on him. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said as much on WEEI on Thursday, stating that Boston has been in touch with Tanaka's agent, Casey Close.

Now, whether the Red Sox are seriously interested in Tanaka is another matter altogether. Cherington says he isn't even sure if there will be a face-to-face meeting with Close and Tanaka, and that only teams that are working towards something will bother meeting him over the next few weeks. Tanaka does not have unlimited time to meet every club with a hint of interest in his services, since a deal must be struck by January 24, or else he will return to Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league and the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who posted him on Christmas Eve.

Why wouldn't Boston be interested in a pitcher who will cost them nothing but money? They can certainly afford a deal in the $100 million-plus range, and the $20 million posting fee -- which, more accurately these days under new rules is a "release" fee -- is paid over the course of two years. That is, in terms of Boston's budget, pocket change, especially since it doesn't count against the luxury tax threshold they're attempting to stay under.

In short, it's Boston's already stacked rotation, which features six major-league starters for five spots. To go a little longer, they also have a full Triple-A rotation, with five arms who could, in theory, all be major-league ready at some point in the coming season, with one or two of them arguably already at that point. Tanaka is potentially excellent, yes, but the Red Sox are so loaded with pitching at this point that they aren't in the same desperate situation to acquire an arm that many other clubs are, meaning they don't need to fork over the resources necessary to acquire him. They could, just like the pitching-rich Dodgers might, but that doesn't mean they have to. Being involved even a little isn't a bad thing for them, though, since you never know how interested Tanaka might be in the Sox until you ask, and if nothing else, it could drive up the price for whomever gets him, which could very well be the Yankees.

There's one more reason why Tanaka might not happen in Boston, and that's Jon Lester. Lester's deal ends after 2014, but both sides are looking toward an extension. If Lester can be had at a similar overall cost to Tanaka -- and, similarly, without the cost of a compensatory draft pick since he's already on the Red Sox -- Boston might as well go with the arm they know the history of from both a production and health perspective. Maybe his ceiling is lower than Tanaka's, but the floor is arguably higher, and when you're dealing in these dollar amounts, that matters.

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