This weekend, it was confirmed that five teams made contract offers to Masahiro Tanaka. There may be others that also placed bids on his services, but it was confirmed by Nikkan Sports that the Yankees, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks all had made offers for at least six years and $100 million.
If you consider these five teams the finalists for Tanaka's services, barring a surprise entrance from a mystery team like the Angels or Mariners, they'd all make good landing spots for the Japanese ace. But which of the five needs him the most? Here's a brief look at where Tanaka would fit in to each team's plans.
1. New York Yankees. Quick – name a Yankees starter aside from C.C Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, or Ivan Nova. Having some difficulties, right? New York's rotation will likely be filled out by David Phelps and Michael Pineda in 2014, and that quintet doesn't strike fear into the hearts of the other AL East teams. For the Yankees, whose best infielder in 2014 could conceivably be Kelly Johnson, adding Tanaka to their rotation is imperative. With a top-heavy rotation and an injury-prone, aging infield, there's a chance that New York could finish out of the playoff chase once again – but that possibility would become a little more of a pipe dream if the Bronx Bombers were able to sign Tanaka.
2. Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have made it known that they will not be outbid for Tanaka's services. I wouldn't doubt Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and I'm pretty confident they'll get their man if they want him enough. But with the Cubs once again projected to struggle in 2014, why would they need Tanaka? Consider this – Chicago has an excellent farm system, but the offensive talent in the system dwarfs the talent on the mound. The club can bring up Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and so on, but their best pitching prospects include two guys who topped out at high-A last year (Pierce Johnson, C.J. Edwards), and a guy who hasn't pitched for the last two seasons and could be forced into the bullpen on a long-term basis (Arodys Vizcaino). Adding someone like Tanaka would pay dividends in 2014 and three years down the road, a sharp contrast from someone like Edwin Jackson, Chicago's big pitching signing last year.
3. Chicago White Sox. The White Sox were a surprise entrant into the Tanaka derby after not being tied to him at all until the calendar flipped to January. But signing Tanaka would put an exclamation point on a fantastic offseason for the White Sox and GM Rich Hahn, adding even more young depth to an organization that was barren four months ago. Sticking Tanaka into a rotation along with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, and either Erik Johnson or Felipe Paulino could make Chicago a chic pick to contend in 2014, especially after the Tigers and Indians arguably didn't improve their clubs following playoff berths in 2013.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona's interest in Tanaka has always baffled me. This is a team that has always had concerns about payroll, and their 2014 payroll will approach $95 million (thanks to the arbitration cases of Mark Trumbo and Gerardo Parra) even without Tanaka in the fold. Arizona also has a substantial amount of starting pitching depth, though I'm really not sure if any of their rotation candidates aside from top prospect Archie Bradley have dominant, top-end potential. I'm just not sure if shelling out $20 million per season for Tanaka is the best use of the limited resources this club has.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles is in a pretty good position right now. Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all locked up long-term. The team has signed a new TV deal that is the richest in baseball. They're bringing in money hand over fist. They don't *need* Tanaka – but they can definitely afford him, and signing him would be a stomach punch for the rest of the NL West, their local rivals in Anaheim, and their large market rivals in Chicago and New York.
Where do I *think* Tanaka will land? I think the Cubs are the team to beat here. They have the resources to outbid every team, they have a need for Tanaka, and they have a front office motivated enough to make a huge play for him. I do think that the bidding is getting a little out of hand – I saw one report saying the Cubs were offering six years and $170 million – but Tanaka to the Cubs seems like the most logical pairing out there.