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It has been well documented that the Red Sox have six starters to fill five rotation spots for 2014. While not actively shopping anyone, teams have asked after veteran starters Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy and John Lackey. Even with all the interest, the Red Sox seem content to stand pat to enter the 2014 with six viable starters. On top of this, Ben Cherington and Red Sox ownership have been consistent in their unwillingness to hand out long-term contracts which they see as a burden. All of these signs point to Red Sox staying out of the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, but my question is: why not?
Due to the new posting system, the maximum bid that teams can bid on Tanaka is $20 million. The only team required to pay that fee is the team that ultimately signs Tanaka, so what harm is there is bidding on Tanaka? The answer is there simply is none. There are sure to be multiple teams that bid the maximum $20 million, so Tanaka is essentially going to be a free agent. Why not be one of those teams? The worst-case scenario is he signs with another team and the Red Sox lose no money. Tanaka represents an upgrade to almost any rotation in the majors, and as the mantra goes “you can never have enough pitching.” The signing of Tanaka would make it more palatable to deal a starting pitcher for a center fielder or prospects without sacrificing too much depth.
Tanaka is likely to demand a kingly sum, but the Red Sox have the financial muscle to make it happen. While they may not want to commit much in the way of years, the Red Sox may be willing to bump up the AAV to entice Tanaka. A four-year deal ranging from $15-18 million a year could be a deal that Tanaka and his agent Casey Close could agree to. Obviously there will be competition for his services, especially from the pitching-starved Yankees, so the bidding may get out of hand and at that point the Red Sox should bow out. But to take themselves out of the running even before the race starts would be a mistake. Tanaka has the potential to be a solid 2 or 3 starter in his first year, and has definite ace potential.
While it is unlikely that the Japanese phenom will don a Red Sox uniform next season, there is no harm in them joining in the chase. Tanaka is a brand of pitcher, that combines youth and experience, that does not come along often, and the Red Sox would be remiss to sit back and do nothing.