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Masahiro Tanaka prefers Boston, New York or Los Angeles

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has narrowed his ideal places to play in Major League Baseball to three cities: Boston, New York and Los Angeles. We’ve heard that the Red Sox could be a dark horse candidate for the 25-year old right-handed pitcher, but how realistic would it be for them or the other four teams from those cities to land him? Here’s my breakdown of each of the five potential landing spots:

New York Mets

The Mets have already spent money this offseason to strengthen their outfield with the likes of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while adding Bartolo Colon to the top of a rotation that will be without ace Matt Harvey for 2014. The addition of the young Tanaka would effectively be a move for 2015, when the team could ideally line up 25-year old Harvey, 24-year old Zack Wheeler, and Tanaka, who would be still just be 26 years old.

The Mets should strongly consider pursuing Tanaka for the promise of a dangerously talented young rotation in the near future, but in all likelihood they will not be able to match the offers from other teams, such as their crosstown rivals.

New York Yankees

The Yankees are considered by many to be the favorites to land Tanaka, given their desperate need for starting pitching and the appeal of a pitcher who should have several years left of the prime of his career. New York will certainly match the $20 million posting fee, and then the question will be how far they’re willing to go to sign the pitcher given the luxury tax. Mathematically, the Yankees will profit more from a stronger season, so they are likely inclined to go all-in at this point, given their busy offseason of free agent signings.

With the $189 million luxury tax cutoff a meaningless mark, New York needs to sign Tanaka. He would fit nicely behind both CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season, and based on how the pitcher adjusts to pitching in Major League Baseball, he could find himself as their ace by next year. The Yankees could fill out the rest of their rotation with Ivan Nova and one of several candidates like David Phelps, or wild card option Michael Pineda.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were a disastrous team last year, and while much of the blame fell on the shoulders of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the team’s lineup really isn’t much of an issue. The team does need to focus on its rotation beyond Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. They added Hector Santiago, but the team could make a big splash by making Tanaka a priority.

The Angels are quickly being out shadowed in Los Angeles by the Dodgers, another candidate for Tanaka’s services. With the agreement that the initial posting fee money will be divided into two years, teams like the Angels could be a better fit given their large investments already, especially when you factor in the possibility of a Mike Trout extension. While I don’t think Tanaka will end up playing for the Angels, the team will consider whether or not he can be a difference-maker after winning just 78 games last year.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers may be primarily interested in extending franchise pitcher Clayton Kershaw, but there’s no question the club will do what it takes to be in the middle of the Tanaka sweepstakes. With an already dazzling pair of aces in Zack Greinke and Kershaw, the Dodgers would be adding another strong foreign arm to complement South Korean left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was an underrated success for Los Angeles last year.

Tanaka could be penciled in as the Dodgers’ fourth starter, with new addition Dan Haren rounding out a tremendous rotation, which would have both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett for insurance. The appeal to assemble a potentially unstoppable team will drive the Dodgers to sign Tanaka, but not if they risk losing Clayton Kershaw to 2015 free agency.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox already have a full rotation, but the possibility of adding Tanaka is appealing both for the boost he could give to their pitching staff while also ruining the New York Yankees’ offseason plans. The Red Sox would look to trade a starting pitcher if they added Tanaka, with John Lackey as the most likely candidate.

The Sox could use Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Tanaka as their top three starters. Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy would be excellent options as fourth and fifth starters, with the depth of pitchers like Brandon Workman. That puts Ryan Dempster in the bullpen, where less total innings could improve the 4.57 ERA he posted last year.

Similarly to the Dodgers, the Red Sox don’t necessarily need Tanaka, but that shouldn’t waver their interest. Yet it’s worth mentioning that amid the drama and hype surrounding the pitcher, no one really knows how he’ll perform in Major League Baseball. Whichever team succeeds in signing him could be gaining their ace of their future–or a complete financial disaster, especially if Tanaka signs for significantly more than $100 million. For now, we can be excited by the idea of Tanaka in America, but the reality of that concept won’t be known until he’s made his first start.

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