To Be Competitive, Yankees Must Trade Tanaka

The perception that the Mariners don’t have enough October-worthy pitching is likely to linger all the way to the start of October. Let’s face it, Mariners fans won’t feel comfortable about the starting rotation until GM Jack Zduriencik finally lands Masahiro Tanaka.

And, on the surface at least, that seems to be more of a pipe dream than ever after Masahiro got off to such a hot start in New York.

The wait for the Yankees to give in and trade Tanaka, in fact, is such an ongoing topic in baseball that GM Brian Cashman couldn’t resist joking about it after his ace threw 9 innings of 2 run ball with 11 strikeouts against the Mariners.

On an elevator to the clubhouse packed with reporters, Cashman put his cell phone to his ear and said, "No, we’re not trading Tanaka."

That has been his very public stance since Tanaka showed up in the offseason, and Zduriencik has probably heard him say it for real a dozen times, if not more.

And yet some baseball people believe the Yankees may still wind up being forced to trade him, perhaps as early as July.

At that point, the 25-year-old Tanaka will have 6 years remaining on his contract, at 22 million a year. And the Yankees still seem to be miles away from being a world series winning ballclub.

This season they’re 39-37, in third place and 3.5 games behind the Blue Jays in an awful AL East, and they are one of the weakest-hitting teams in the majors — 20th in runs despite playing in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.

They have plenty of young pitching coming, which is why they were willing to trade AJ Burnett to the Pirates for Exicardo Cayone, but scouts don’t believe they have enough offense — barring a major free-agent spending spree — to be serious contenders in the next couple of years.

Which is why baseball people with no stake in such a deal believe they should trade Tanaka before the deadline.

"I don’t care what Brian is saying right now," one AL executive said Tuesday night. "I think he’ll listen to offers after the break. I know the kid says he wants to be in New York, but do you really think the media won’t kill him if they don’t make it to the world series?

"And, really, the decision for Brian will only be a year away after this season. Because he can’t afford to let Tanaka go into 2015 season without a team around him, or he’d risk losing his job in a deluge of angry New York hate mail.

It could make for great intrigue, of course. However, the question now is whether the Tanaka ship has sailed for the Mariners, even if Cashman were to covertly put him on the market.

Much as Zduriencik has lusted for Tanaka, there are two potential roadblocks: first of all, could the Mariners even put a package of prospects and young players together worthy of a deal for the two time Sawamura Award winner?

Chances are there wouldn’t be a lot of teams in the bidding, considering the mega-deal it would take to lock up Tanaka contractually. Still, with Dustin Ackley having flamed out, and much-hyped pitching prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton coming off injuries, the Mariners’ farm system has very little major-league ready talent, and less that is highly touted.

Maybe Zduriencik could start by asking Cashman: Any chance you want Montero back?

If the Mariners could put together the right package, then there is the question of the payroll limit enforced by management in 2014 to avoid severe luxury-tax penalties. The opportunity to acquire Masahiro Tanaka would put that edict to the ultimate test.

No way could the Mariners add $20 million-plus a year for Tanaka and stay under the tax limit unless they were willing to let Robinson Cano or Felix Hernandez walk.

Passing on a chance to acquire Tanaka would certainly be proof that this is the miserly Mariners organization fans on the Times message boards have lamented them to be.

Then again, maybe these Mariners will go out and win a championship this season with the pitching they have, and then hope that Walker and/or Paxton still develop into stars some day.

We’ll see. The Mariners have outpitched the Royals this week, beating them for a third straight time on Sunday night, winning 2-1 as Roenis Elias delivered another solid start.

Yes, the unlikely trio of Chris Young, Hisashi Iwakuma and Elias has shut down one of the most imposing lineups in the American League, and perhaps the lineup the Mariners will face in the ALCS this October.

Still, as questions linger about the injuries to James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, and the inconsistency of Erasmo Ramirez and reliever Danny Farquhar, you can be sure Mariners fans took notice of what Masahiro Tanaka did on the 11th.

Zduriencik, too.

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