As discussed earlier today, there is a report floating out there that 25-year-old Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka – for all intents and purposes, a free agent – is down to three finalists for his very desirable services: the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Angels. Each makes sense for its own reasons, not the least of which is the geographic location. New York is the grandest stage, and Los Angeles is a hell of a nice place to live and work (for some folks).
The Yankees desperately need top-level starting pitching if they’re going to turn things around from last year (hell, tread water even). Financially, you can never count them out. From Tanaka’s perspective: if you were a foreign player coming to the United States, wouldn’t you strongly consider joining the creme de la creme, historically speaking?
The Dodgers don’t desperately need anything, but ever since new ownership took over – and inked a perversely large TV deal – no luxury has been too luxurious. On paper, they look like the best team in baseball, and project to be competitive every year of Tanaka’s expected deal.
The Angels, like the Yankees, need starting pitching as much as any theoretical contender, and need to capture some of the competitive years they have in the near-term with guys like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and Jered Weaver under expensive control. Like the Dodgers, the Angels have freshly cashed in on the huge TV market, so there’s plenty of money there. They play in an area Tanaka may want to be, and he could be their young ace.
So, as favorites or finalists, the three make sense. Should we close the book then? Shut down the Obsessive Watch?
Well, maybe. I’m not going to until he signs, but, you know, this could be the turning point. Still, I’m a cynical dude, and I’d like to focus for a moment solely on the potential problems with each of those teams as landing spots.
New York Yankees – The need is there and the money is there, so there’s no real problem here … unless the Yankees make good on a long-standing plan to get under a $189 million payroll in 2014 in order to reset their luxury tax rate going forward (as well as their revenue sharing dollars). At present, per Joel Sherman’s calculations, the Yankees are at $151.5 million for 2014, but that doesn’t include the Brian Roberts deal (just finalized today, and worth as much as $4.6 million against the luxury tax, if he reaches certain incentives), any arbitration guys, the $11ish million for insurance/pensions, any money for in-season trades or call-ups, or the pre-arb guys on the 40-man roster. Add all that in and the Yankees are pushing right up against $189 million as it is.
In other words, the Alex Rodriguez suspension made the luxury tax plan possible, but only if the Yankees add very little the rest of this offseason – and certainly not if they sign Tanaka. Do the Yankees add a lesser arm and otherwise stand pat, fulfilling the luxury tax plan? Or do they decide that getting back to the playoffs in 2014 is more important, and essentially admit to a two-year-long mistake?
It’s enough to at least make you wonder about the Yankees’ involvement.
Los Angeles Dodgers – For every report that the Dodgers will throw around their financial muscle to get Tanaka, there are credible local reports (plural) that the Dodgers are simply not prioritizing him. The team has seven legitimate starting pitchers, three of whom are ace level or just near it. Maybe Tanaka doesn’t want to play fourth fiddle, or maybe the Dodgers don’t want to have a $250 million payroll for the next ten years. Clayton Kershaw’s free agency looms.
The California Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Near Disneyland – Similar to the Yankees’ issue, the question is the luxury tax cap. Per Ken Rosenthal’s most recent thoughts on the issue, the Angels have just $13 to $15 million left under $189 million going into 2014, so fitting Tanaka in would be difficult. And, for future planning purposes, there’s the matter of Mike Trout’s soon-to-be exploding cost. Worse, they’re going to have a couple dead contracts in Pujols and Hamilton within a couple years, and those dead contracts will pinch payroll for a bit. If Tanaka costs more than, say, $20 million in AAV, and if the Angels plan to extend Trout, they could have nearly $120 million annually invested in just five players (Tanaka, Trout, Pujols, Hamilton, Weaver) through the 2016 season, and $100 million in just four players for 2017. The question is whether they care. If they want to stay competitive for that run and then thereafter, they’d likely have to go over the luxury tax cap, and stay over it – incurring increasing tax and revenue-sharing penalties in the process.