Tanaka price escalating, Mariners a favorite for Scott Baker

Chung Sung-Jun

Tanaka isn't coming cheap, the Mariners still enjoy looking at pictures of Nelson Cruz, and Scott Baker may end up in Seattle. There's also a fairly large "football" game today.

Five more days. The idea of the Mariners signing Masahiro Tanaka has always been a bit more fantasy than reality, but those five days represent the only amount of time left until he makes a decision. Now it seems the call may come before that, according to Nick Cafardo. Tanaka's also supposed to be really super duper expensive now, with the rumored price tag tipping at $120 million over six years, before the posting fee.

The latest report has the Diamondbacks formally presenting a 6 year, $106 million offer for Tanaka, and the Cubs are known to have dropped something serious on the table as well. Despite the massive contract given to Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers will probably be in, and so will the Yankees, especially now that they're not paying Alex Rodriguez in 2014. Plus, hashtag mystery team.

Speaking of mystery teams, there's been nothing from the Mariners, lying in the weeds as they usually do. Ken Rosenthal is back to his usual set of "The Mariners won't spend anymore unless they do" brand of reporting, and passes along that they're probably out on Tanaka but are still interested in Nelson Cruz. It seems like Rosenthal has one guy that he trusts that is really convinced the Mariners won't spend anymore, and since there's absolutely nothing to report in terms of transactions around the league right now, Rosenthal continues to pass this fact on. Some people are starting to feel a little slighted over it, and while he's just doing his job, it's getting a little old. When the Mariners do something big, nobody knows it's coming, and then it just happens. You can't put any more stock into his budget pseudo-reports than you could before when the Mariners went ahead and dropped a quarter billion dollars. Come on, Tanaka. You're ruining the rumor mill.

If you don't buy the rumblings that the Mariners have no money, then when does it become too much for Tanaka? The fees to obtain his services for the next six or seven years aren't near any sort of potential bargain anymore, especially if the price tag rises to $140 million in total. I'm comfortable paying big bucks for Tanaka (our off-season plan suggested 6/$70 with a $66 million posting fee before the new agreement), but that was also before Robinson Cano and the truckload of money given to him. At some point it becomes shrewd to walk away, and that walk-away number isn't much higher than what I originally advocated. If the bidding reaches $120 million and the Mariners are involved, that's just fine. But they likely won't be at that price tag, and it may be smarter for them to spread some resources around in other ways as things keep rising.

I really don't think the Mariners are going to go as high as it takes for Tanaka, but at this point nobody really knows what the Mariners are doing. If they did surprise and step up to the major bidding wars, it'd be a potententially wonderful/scary surprise. With the current payroll structure of potentially three massive contracts, I'd be thrilled at $100-120 million (before posting fee), anxious at $120-140, and worried at $140+.  It's not "Tanaka at any cost" anymore with how many other holes the team has, and even if you don't believe the Ken Rosenthal "we're cheap now" Mariners front office narrative, the money isn't limitless and you can likely forget trading for somebody like Matt Kemp or David Price if Tanaka signs. One of those is a good thing.

It's probably time to start thinking about what the Mariners should do if Tanaka goes elsewhere. One of those players is Nelson Cruz, who is still without a home and the Mariners have at least some solid interest in. We've talked about Cruz a lot, but Jeff wrote about him over at USSM, and at what price he becomes reasonable. I have considered writing the same thing, and while my "I'm OK with this" contract prices are a little higher than the max Jeff suggests (3/$18), the sticker price has to shoot down fairly massively for him to make sense, but it seems to be trending that way. Judging that the Orioles are now getting a Delmon, it's getting really hard to figure out where Cruz might land. The inevitability of him becoming a Mariner is a very real feeling, but it may not be at the stomach-churning price tag it was at the winter meetings.

If the Mariners don't land Tanaka, they're also said to be among the favorites for Scott Baker, who we also endorsed in the off-season plan (this is getting a little weird.) Here's what we said about Baker then, and it still holds true now.

Enter Scott Baker, who has finally returned from a disastrous two injury-plagued years to make three starts with the Cubs. Though Baker was paid $5.5 million with Chicago, he won't approach that again, and the Mariners have a chance to buy low on Baker while offering him performance incentives based on innings pitched. Before the injuries, Baker was a consistent 2-3 win pitcher with Minnesota, and while he's far from a pitcher the Mariners can rely on, his acquisition is a luxury lottery chip that could pay off...it's a stretch to pencil in Baker into the rotation ahead of both Walker and Paxton, but it gives the Mariners options. Baker is a reasonable long man in the bullpen as a guy who throws a ton of strikes. He can shift there as early as the Mariners want him to, but Baker represents an insurance plan who could still pay off on his own if given the opportunity. A one-year, $1.5 million deal with incentives up to $4 million should get it done.

Now it's being reported that Scott Baker may have to settle for a non-roster invite to spring training after his searches for a guaranteed contract have fallen short. The Mariners should be at the front of the line offering up a Jason Bay-type deal, and if that doesn't work, hand him the guarantee. This team desperately needs depth in the rotation, and Baker can move to the bullpen if the youngsters kill it right away. It's a no-brainier at a cheap cost.

One more thing....

Go Hawks.

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