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  • The Tanaka Factor

    I'll say this much for Masahiro Tanaka: his timing is good. The Japenese star just put together the best statistical season for a pitcher in NPB history, and will be coming to the States just as Major League Baseball is receiving a massive influx of revenue from new media deals.

    Tanaka has been on an incredible run. After starring for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in the spring, he went 22-0 with a 1.23 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. At season's end, he came on as closer to protect a one-run lead in his team's pennant-clinching victory.

    He's a star on the level of Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo. He's only 24 years old. He has filed for international free agency. And there are plenty of major-league teams ready to spend big on pitching.

    The Twins are one of them.

    There are several reasons to believe the Twins will be active players for Tanaka this winter. Jim Pohlad has repeatedly insisted that he is more than open to aggressive financial measures in order to improve the club, while Terry Ryan has been typically wary of the free agent route.

    Ryan's main concern -- one that has been echoed by Pohlad -- is that there's great peril in handing high-dollar multi-year contracts to aging pitchers, who are notoriously susceptible to injury and decline.

    But of course, Tanaka is just entering his physical prime. He is only 15 months older than Alex Meyer, the organization's top pitching prospect. And his success in the Nippon Pro Baseball league has been otherworldly. In seven seasons, he is 95-35 with a 2.32 ERA, 52 complete games and 18 shutouts. He is renowned for his outstanding command, and his featured split-finger fastball is considered by scouts to be a plus major-league pitch.

    Of course, dominant numbers in Japan don't always portend effectiveness in the majors. The Twins have seen that on some level with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but the more relevant cases would be players like Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. There's plenty of risk involved, especially when you consider that Tanaka could well command an investment that rivals (or even exceeds) the $112 million shelled out by Texas for Darvish two years ago.

    The Rangers' contract with Darvish is for six years and $60 million -- hardly outrageous by MLB standards -- but Texas also needed to win bidding rights with a $52 million posting fee for the hurler's Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.

    Undoubtedly, the Golden Eagles are licking their chops anticipating the bids that might come in for Tanaka given his age and status. Several large-market major-league teams appear poised to spend heavily on starting pitching this offseason, most notably the New York Yankees.

    As the posting system for Japanese players involves blind bids, Ryan and the Twins would need to send out a very, very significant offer in order to have a legitimate chance of landing the pinnacle of the international market.

    Could they be gun-shy about playing this game? That would be understandable, since they were burned on the Nishioka deal. Then again, they must feel some sense of remorse for missing out on Hisashi Iwakuma, for whom they finished runner up in the post bidding back in 2010. The Twins clearly had interest in Iwakuma but didn't do what it took to bring him in, and they've since watched him go 23-11 with a 2.84 ERA in two seasons with Seattle.

    The cost to claim Tanaka will be in another realm entirely from Nishioka (winning bid: $5 million) or Iwakuma ($19 million). I suspect he may break the current record held by Darvish at $51.7 million. That's an awful lot of money to pay simply to negotiate with a player, at which point the Twins would have to make another massive financial commitment.

    Perhaps too spicy a pepper to swallow. There's not much in the history of the franchise or the commanding GM to suggest that such a splashy play would be on the table. But with the Twins admitting they have surplus money to spend, and with Tanaka fitting so well into their emerging timeline, I wouldn't be surprised if the club made a bid they feel is quite aggressive in order to take a shot at the intriguing righty.

    Whether or not that's aggressive enough isn't in their hands. It could very well turn out that the Twins' ability to gamble on Tanaka is dictated more by the level of interest from other (far richer) teams than their own.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Tanaka Factor started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 138 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      To be fair, Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty good his first two years. He threw 200+ innings those two years. Then all the wear and tear from pitching so much in Japan added up and he was never 100% again after that. His second year, he went 18-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

      I'm not against the Twins going after Tanaka because it's not my money. But, you could get two very good #2s for the same money.
      And where exactly are these number 2s? I doubt Garza is returning. Kazmir might sign here, and Johnson is quite the health risk himself. I'd rather get the 24 year old with less milage then spending big money on older question marks.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      To be fair, Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty good his first two years. He threw 200+ innings those two years. Then all the wear and tear from pitching so much in Japan added up and he was never 100% again after that. His second year, he went 18-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

      I'm not against the Twins going after Tanaka because it's not my money. But, you could get two very good #2s for the same money.
      That is true. Also, something to remember about Japanese baseball: starting pitchers get an extra day of rest (5) compared to our style. So while Tanaka has thrown a lot of innings (although not much more than a good minor league prospect, I reckon) he had good rest between starts.

      I'm not sure what the usual routine is with bullpen sessions between starts is though. Anyone know?
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      No matter how much they talk now, when the real negotiations start I doubt the Twins sign any free agent.
    1. 108 Double Stitches's Avatar
      108 Double Stitches -
      Seems like the cost of Tanaka will be about the price that Santana cost the Mets. Santana already had a Cy Young in the MLB at that time. The market may have changed some, but has the philosophy of the Twins changed?

      Another way to look at it is you are approaching Joe Mauer money. Looks very good in Japan, but not even 1 IP in MLB.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I'm not against the Twins going after Tanaka because it's not my money. But, you could get two very good #2s for the same money.
      That doesn't seem to be true anymore Seth. Here is a list of the contracts signed by #1, #2 and #3 starters this last offseason.

      Player $MM/yr years total $
      #1 starters1 ~25 5-7 140-175
      Wainwright2 20 5 100
      Anibal Sanchez 17 5 85
      CJ Wilson3 15.5 5 77.5
      Edwin Jackson 13 4 52
      Matt Harrison 11 5 55

      1This includes Verlander, Hernandez, Hamels and Greinke.
      2He was a #1 previously but sat out 2011 with an injury and had a "disappointing" 2012 before signing.
      3Signed in spring 2012. Salaries went up again during '12-'13 offseason.


      As we can see, clear cut #1's received about $25MM per year for 5-7 years. Sanchez, Wilson (with inflation) and Wainwright got paid for about #2 starter prices, $17-$20MM per year for 5 seasons. Jackson and Harrison got paid #3 starter rates.

      Assuming salaries inflate again this offseason, which seems likely given the extra money being given out by MLB, a #2 starter will probably make ~$100MM over a 5 year contract. That seems to be right in line with what is being discussed here for Tanaka. Now, you could potentially sign two #3 starters this off season for a similar amount of money.

      Of course the advantage that Tanaka brings is that he will only count for maybe $10MM/year towards the yearly salary with the balance going towards his one time posting fee. In essence he will be getting paid like a #3/#4 starter.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      If the Twins offered a posting fee of around $50 and lost, would not feel bad about it, because the effort had been made. Looking at about $110 million over a 5 year period. Better than trading for #3 starting pitching. Tanaka looks like he is a #2 or #3 type, not a #1. Twins need to overpay and gamble a bit. This could be a place to start as I doubt the Twins Cities will become a free agent mecca.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      The red flag on Tanaka is his out pitch is the split fingered fastball. The Twins organization believes the splitter causes elbow injuries.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/sp...anted=all&_r=0
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      I think the top 3 teams posting all get to negotiate with Tanaka. I may be wrong about details but I don't think they're using the previous posting system.
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      The red flag on Tanaka is his out pitch is the split fingered fastball. The Twins organization believes the splitter causes elbow injuries.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/sp...anted=all&_r=0
      Well that does it for me. It was tough to see the Twins going for him to begin with but after that information I don't see them taking that kind of risk ever. Hope I am wrong but I am convinced we will not get Tanaka now. So best move my mind to the next best pitching option for the Twins.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      If the Twins are going to spend big, this is the way to do it. The team can eat $50m+ in one season and not hamstring themselves with a $20m+ yearly salary 4-5 years from now. They have the money just sitting there, having underspent for two consecutive seasons. Tanaka is 24 years old.

      With that said, still not gonna happen. Sigh.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      The time value of money says you are better off paying the $20M five years from now instead of up-front.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      The red flag on Tanaka is his out pitch is the split fingered fastball. The Twins organization believes the splitter causes elbow injuries.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/sp...anted=all&_r=0
      To throw a good split you have to pronate, its an exaggerated two seemer. My understanding was there was more evidence pointing to breaking balls as the cause of UCL injuries, due to the opposite (supinating) action.

      In any case, I wonder if that is still the policy. If it is, it didn't stop them signing Pelfrey.
    1. FSP's Avatar
      FSP -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      The time value of money says you are better off paying the $20M five years from now instead of up-front.
      True, but unless the Twins roll over their excess payroll into future payroll, which they never have before, it makes sense to pay more up front since that money just disappears otherwise.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I wonder if that is still the policy. If it is, it didn't stop them signing Pelfrey.
      Pelfrey signed a one year deal AFTER his surgery. That's a lot different than giving a 24 year old a 6 year contract.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      The red flag on Tanaka is his out pitch is the split fingered fastball. The Twins organization believes the splitter causes elbow injuries.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/sp...anted=all&_r=0
      The Twins also believed that the strikeout caused automatic admission to Hades. I don't defend the front office much lately but their recent draft picks and trade targets suggest they have softened on this one. A bit. I suspect at times they have learned from past conservative errors. (See righthander Hardy wanting to pull everything in 2010 followed by a successfull 2011 with Baltimore then mysteriously righthanders Willingham and Plouffe getting no static about pulling everying in 2012)

      Perhaps they don't learn as fast as other clubs or as fast as we would like, but it's possible for them to adjust seemingly statuesque stances once in awhile.

      Still, I'm in the camp that Tanaka isn't coming. I just wish we would be able to find out what the Twins actually bid so we could compare it to the winner.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      The Twins also believed that the strikeout caused automatic admission to Hades. I don't defend the front office much lately but their recent draft picks and trade targets suggest they have softened on this one. A bit. I suspect at times they have learned from past conservative errors. (See righthander Hardy wanting to pull everything in 2010 followed by a successfull 2011 with Baltimore then mysteriously righthanders Willingham and Plouffe getting no static about pulling everying in 2012)

      Perhaps they don't learn as fast as other clubs or as fast as we would like, but it's possible for them to adjust seemingly statuesque stances once in awhile.

      Still, I'm in the camp that Tanaka isn't coming. I just wish we would be able to find out what the Twins actually bid so we could compare it to the winner.
      Not to take away from your larger point that the Twins can change, but other than Pelfrey who have the Twins signed or drafted that throws a split finger?
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      Not to take away from your larger point that the Twins can change, but other than Pelfrey who have the Twins signed or drafted that throws a split finger?
      Well as you mentioned, one can at least point to Pelfrey as far as the softening of the splitter stance goes, but I really didn't mean to imply they have changed in that regard. I merely meant to point out that the Twins have shown what appears to be reluctant change in other areas recently which may mean they would be willing to reluctantly change on this issue as well. Though the fact that they actually sent scouts to watch him may be further evidence. Surely the Twins had a scouting report that showed heavy doses of splitters prior to buying the plane tickets.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      This is going to be 6 years and $120 million total. Maybe even pushing to $132 million.

      There is no planet on which the Twins are going to do anything like this. And it's unfortunate.
      100 percent agree...whether or not it counts against the salary cap...you take the posting fee (minimum $65 mil) and amortize it over the contract...assuming minimum 10 mil annual salary--that's 125 right there...or 21 million annual...I wouldn't do that at all.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      The time value of money says you are better off paying the $20M five years from now instead of up-front.
      But in the reality of MLB, front-loading a contract if you have the ability to do it makes way more sense.
    1. BabyJesusBuxton's Avatar
      BabyJesusBuxton -
      The Twins have stated that they were well below there anticipated team issued salary cap this year. I believe by around 20 million based on estimated 2013 revenue. If you add in the 25+ million they will receive from revenue sharing they can easily post 50 million to sign Tanaka without spending much of the Pohlad's pocket change. After that, you are looking at #3/#4 money to sign him. Honestly, if they expect to keep fan support moving forward this move would show that the Pohlads aren't just trying to make money and that they want to put a good product out on the field.
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