The Mariners and Masahiro Tanaka have gone through a weird dance together this winter. For months, it seemed like the Mariners were passing along "do you like me Y/N" notes to Tanaka and his agent without anybody else realizing it - I even wondered if the Mariners were actually interested over the break. The Mariners have been very quiet historically on their off-season moves, but the slow leak of how Robinson Cano unfolded convinced me, at least in some way, that keeping interest in a massive free agent off the radar was impossible.
Flash forward a week later, and suddenly the Mariners are now being called a, if not the, favorite for Tanaka. It started yesterday morning with a tweet from Jayson Stark.
It's early on Tanaka watch. But constant theme from interested teams is: Watch out for #Mariners. Execs think they have one big move left— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 2, 2014
Interesting, but it mostly seemed like speculation. It's a complete 180 from the "Mariners are out of money, how M-barrassing" narrative Ken Rosenthal attempted to stretch in December, as now the same sample of industry people who Rosenthal represented now think the Mariners have enough money left to drop over $100 mill on Tanaka's services. It's a reminder as to how fleeting rumors are in general. There are hundreds of representative opinions in baseball, and Rosenthal's handful that helped him formulate his narrative can't be trusted to mean any more than Stark's handful who indicated the M's are prepared to splash again. Or maybe this is just the "for the right player" out clause Rosenthal included before.
Stark's tweet was more confirmation of what we already knew, and Colin wrote about it last week. At this point, everyone seems to think the Mariners are going to be involved, and heavily. But it's what Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote that really started to turn some heads.
The Mariners look like the favorites for Masahiro Tanaka. But competition is fierce. Ranking the top 10 candidates: http://t.co/ZQ16JNJBlg— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) January 3, 2014
Now I'm paying attention. Badler is as good of a source of any we've seen, a guy who makes his living by having an ear to the ground on international signings. While many people were surprised it was the White Sox who landed Jose Daniel Abreu, Badler had mentioned them as a serious candidate for weeks. When he says the Mariners are the favorite, I believe him - not that a deal is going to get done, but that they will go hard to try and land him. He makes a strong argument for the Mariners having the right blend of need and money, and it's hard to argue against it. However, we're still waiting for the smoking gun that really proves the M's are in it for sure.
Now, with everybody saying that the fit is right, the Mariners have to be smart. As I said last week, there is a limit to how much the Mariners should be willing to sink into Tanaka. He isn't without risk, and if that command falls apart, his stuff probably isn't going to be enough to justify his contract. Before he became the prettiest girl at the ball, Tanaka seemed like the perfect off-season acquisition for the Mariners. Our off-season plan had Tanaka at $6/70, but that was after a $66 million posting fee (before the new agreement) and it was also before they dropped a quarter billion dollars on Robinson Cano. Now, they must be less reckless. I'll be ecstatic if the Mariners do land Tanaka, but if they land him by overpaying everyone else by $20 million, I'll be nervous. The chance to get a sneaky, under-market deal on a Japanese pitcher came and left with Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma. Tanaka doesn't represent a bargain, he is starting to appear very close to regular, MLB market value - all for a pitcher that hasn't thrown a single pitch in the bigs. At some point, the risk side starts to outweigh the upside with how heavy the scale is getting.
In an off-season where the Mariners have already decided to throw caution to the wind and go all-in, Tanaka makes more sense than in any previous year in Z's regime. I want him. You want him. I have no idea if he wants us. The M's just can't have a "get him at any cost" mentality.