Mariners expected to be involved in Tanaka bidding
Seattle GM Zduriencik declines comment on 25-year-old Japanese pitcher
SEATTLE -- While it seems logical and likely that the Mariners will be one of the primary pursuers of Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka over the next month, general manager Jack Zduriencik declined comment Friday when asked if Seattle has put in a bid for the talented 25-year-old.
Tanaka is a unique case as the first Japanese star to test Major League Baseball's new posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball, but Zduriencik maintained his normal stance of not discussing matters regarding free-agent players at this early point in the process.
All 30 MLB teams were informed Thursday that a 30-day window had begun to negotiate with Tanaka after his Rakuten Golden Eagles agreed Tuesday to make him available to any Major League teams willing to pay the $20 million posting fee to the Eagles once a deal with Tanaka is reached.
Clubs have until 2 p.m. PT on Jan. 24 to reach a deal with Tanaka. Given the $20 million fee is only owed by the club that ultimately reaches an agreement with Tanaka, most MLB teams are expected to at least make an offer.
Tanaka figures to generate a very competitive market among clubs looking for a top-line starter who has been sensational in Japan over the past several years.
Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the regular season last year, with 183 strikeouts and 32 walks in 212 innings. But he certainly wasn't just a one-year wonder, having gone 19-5 with the same 1.27 ERA in 2011 and 10-4 with a 1.87 ERA in '12.
Tanaka began pitching for Rakuten at 18 and is already a seven-year veteran with a career record of 99-35 and a 2.30 ERA in 1,315 innings over 175 outings, all but three of them starts. He pitched for Japan in the 2008 Olympics and also the '09 and '13 World Baseball Classics.
The Mariners' interest seems logical, given their majority owner is the Japanese-based Nintendo of America and the club has a strong following in Japan. The Mariners have fielded a number of former Japanese standouts in recent years, including outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, catcher Kenji Johjima, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, closer Kazuhiro Sasaki and current pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who was a teammate of Tanaka's on the Rakuten team from 2007-11.
How much those connections mean for Tanaka remains to be seen. Several Japanese journalists indicated Tanaka and Iwakuma were friends while playing together for Rakuten, but weren't extremely close given their seven-year age difference.
Some Japanese players prefer the West Coast for its closer proximity and flight time from their homeland, and Iwakuma also chose Seattle in part for its strong Japanese community and as a good area for him and his wife to raise their children.
Tanaka married Japanese singer Mai Satoda last year and there is some speculation that the high-profile couple may be more interested in a bigger media market than Seattle. Everything is speculation at this point, however, including initial suggestions that signing Tanaka will require teams to pony up something in the $100 million-plus range for a six-year deal.
While the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, Red Sox and Phillies are all expected to make big pushes for Tanaka, the New York Daily News reported Friday that one baseball official indicated the Mariners were "going to be a factor" in the negotiations, given the club's following in Japan and desire to sign another top pitcher alongside Felix Hernandez.
Zduriencik has indicated all offseason that he'd like to add an experienced starter to fill out a rotation topped by Hernandez and Iwakuma, and take some of the pressure off young prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.
The Mariners made a big splash with their $240 million signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, but still need to bolster their bullpen and add a backup catcher.
While most of the premier free agents are off the board, the top starting pitchers are the one group largely untapped. In part because clubs are waiting on Tanaka's situation and in part because they're asking for a lot of money, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo all are still unsigned.
If Tanaka waits until his 30-day window ends on Jan. 24, his decision won't come until just a few weeks before teams begin Spring Training. Mariners pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 12.