Could Phillies Make A Run At A Japanese Superstar?
By John Stolnis
A few weeks ago, when reports first came to light that the Phillies had signed Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a six-year deal worth around $48 million, it became apparent the organization had made a change in its overall philosophy.
Ruben Amaro and the front office, at that moment, let everyone know that they were going to be players in the international market. Real players. Like, big money players.
That the Phils didn’t actually sign MAG for about six more weeks, and when they did, to a much lesser, team-friendly three-year, $12 million deal, doesn’t mean that philosophy changed. MAG’s contract revision was more a result of their concern over his health, not a re-thinking that signing an big-time international prospect was too risky.
And perhaps even more encouraging were Amaro’s comments after MAG was officially signed…
"“More than anything, we’re trying to find different ways to find talent,” Amaro said. “The major-league free-agent market is difficult to navigate. There are risks everywhere. There are risks with this guy, too. But from what we’ve seen, we think he can be pretty special.”"
The Phils seem to have recognized that the MLB free agent market isn’t the rock solid talent pool it used to be. The signing of the 26-year-old Gonzalez gave the Phillies, in their minds, an alternate way to use their financial advantage to acquire talent that is younger than 74 years old.
Which is why it’ll be interesting to see if the Phillies make a serious push for another, more expensive international prospect; Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka.
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t watched a lot of Japanese baseball and you probably don’t know much about the 24-year-old right-hander.
This is video of Tanaka at the World Baseball Championship earlier this year against Cuba. In that game he struck out 12 hitters in seven innings and allowed just two runs. He’s been called another Yu Darvish and, like Yu, is going to cost whatever team signs him a fortune. Reports are that Tanaka has similar secondary stuff to Darvish, but not as overpowering a fastball, although he does hump it up to about 93-94 mph. Ben Badler of Baseball America had this scouting report on him:
"At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Tanaka throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph. Even though Tanaka can reach the mid-90s, his fastball is the pitch that gives some scouts pause because it comes in on a flat plane, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest. Tanaka has two secondary pitches that have earned grades of 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, including a 70 splitter with late downward action to keep hitters off his fastball. His low- to mid-80s slider is another plus weapon, while he’ll mix in a curveball as well."
Bottom line is Tanaka would likely be the best starting pitcher available on the market this winter, including pitchers already in the Majors.
A few Major League teams, including the Yankees, are rumored to have “heavily scouted” Tanaka, which isn’t surprising. In order to have a chance at landing him, interested teams must submit a blind bid with Tanaka’s Japanese team to negotiate with him. The Texas Rangers posted a record $51.7 million two years ago JUST for the rights to negotiate with Darvish. It’s expected a similar number will be required for the right to talk with Tanaka.
Then, the team must agree to a contract with the right-hander. After posting $51.7 million, the Rangers then signed Darvish to a six-year, $56 million for Yu to actually pitch for them. That means the Rangers paid a little less than $108 million to have Yu Darvish throw baseballs professionally for them, an incredible amount of money to pay for a pitcher who had never pitched a single inning in the minors or Majors.
Signing a Japanese import, especially for that kind of money, is a huge risk, and they don’t always work out as well as Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda. In 2007, the Red Sox spent $103 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka. That didn’t work out. Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Hideki Irabu were other high-profile, former-Nippon Pro Baseball hurlers to flame out in the Majors.
Just like the signing of Gonzalez, signing Tanaka would be a huge risk, only FAR more expensive. But it’s clear the dude has some talent.
At the end of the day, even though the Phillies appear willing to spend more of their influx of cash for high-end international players, spending over $110 million for Tanaka might be a bridge too far, even for a team that appears to be changing their organizational philosophy.
It would be exciting if they got him. But you couldn’t blame them for staying away.