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Phillies Quietly Positioning For Masahiro Tanaka Push?


Returning to Phillies in a new role as third-base coach,

Pete Mackanin

scouted Tanaka for the Yankees this season. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2014 offseason, there is no more coveted pitcher than Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka. The 24-year old right-hander went 20-0 and posted a 1.24 ERA with a 0.934 WHIP and 1.3 BB/9 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

He’s not as effective as Yu Darvish, as his strikeout rate (only 8.5/9 IP for his career), is good, but not anything special. He still looks to be a solid #3 starter with the upside of maybe a #2.

The downside of signing a high-profile Japanese player is the posting fee that a team must first win and then pay to the player’s original team in order to even negotiate with him.

In a down pitching free agent class this year, his posting fee and contract stands to exceed Darvish’s $51.7 million posting fee and $60 million contract. However, without a qualifying offer hanging over his head, he becomes even more appealing for the teams with large budgets.

In a year where the Phillies’ rotation is in a state of flux, with only three of five spots set (Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and presumably Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez), there’s room for adding quality arms this offseason.

Even though Ruben Amaro insists he’ll tender a contract to Kyle Kendrick, that still leaves a spot for a #3 RHP (or #2, if Ryne Sandberg insists on splitting up the LHPs) to slide into the rotation.

Tanaka would be a perfect fit for the team, but despite this seemingly obvious match, there hasn’t been any apparent interest from the Phillies. No Phillies scouts have been seen at his starts, and there haven’t been any rumor-rumblings from Philadelphia (teams most tied to Tanaka include the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Angels).

The Yankees seem to have the most persistent interest, but in an offseason where Robinson Cano is projected to take over $250 million to re-sign, they and the Dodgers (with their similar ~$250 million extension for Clayton Kershaw probably occurring this Winter) might be bluffing a bit in their ability to pay for Tanaka’s services.

The Angels, as well, have a few bloated contracts in Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols that will likely prevent them from offering as much as others.

Here is where the Phillies have an advantage: there are widespread reports that the Phillies will agree to terms on a new multi-BILLION dollar TV contract in the next month.

Already with the largest budget of any of the remaining contenders, the Phillies stand to receive an additional $150+ million in revenue each season – they can afford to pay the posting fee if they really believe in Tanaka’s talent. They might even have enough additional money in the works to outbid the Dodgers or Yankees if either are truly serious.

Here is where you may be saying: “Sure, they can afford him, but there haven’t been any rumblings from any MLB reporter/blog/etc.”

Ruben Amaro loves two things. He loves acquiring big-name pitching, and he loves being the mystery team in any negotiations. You might have heard that in 2010 we signed a young, high-upside guy named “Cliff Lee.” Familiar with him?

Well, that offseason, we weren’t exactly the favorites to sign him. MLB Trade Rumors reported the Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, Dodgers, Twins, Mets, Brewers, Reds, and Padres as teams with interest.

That’s a long list of teams not named the Phillies.

In November 2011, while there were some rumblings that the Phillies had been talking to Jonathan Papelbon, there was a sense that the Blue Jays might end up with him.

In fact, just 4 days before the signing, it was reported that the Phillies had agreed to a 4-year deal with Ryan Madson (makes the Papelbon deal look smart, doesn’t it?) and it was believed they were out of the race for Pap.

Just this past Summer, the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs, and Twins were reported to be the favorites for Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – and much to everyone’s surprise, the Phillies agreed to a large, 6-year, $48 million contract with the right-hander (eventually revised to $12 million after a bad physical).

This was the first time EVER that the Phillies made this large a splash in the international market, and many saw it as a shift in organizational philosophy. It also showed that the Phillies are willing to offer a 6-year contract to the right guy, at the right age (which Tanaka certainly is).

So if they have the money, and have a history of quietly negotiating with big name pitching, and they’ve begun more seriously looking at international prospects, why haven’t we at least seen the Phillies scout Tanaka? If they have no first-hand information about the player, let’s HOPE they don’t just sign him because its the cool thing to do.

Well, turns out they re-hired Pete Mackanin, the team’s former pitching coach who spent this season as a scout for the Yankees.

Accurate. Maybe the Phillies don’t need to be there if they can just throw money at the guys who were? It would be in line with being an under the radar team in the negotiations.

I’m not implying the Phillies hired their third base coach exclusively to maybe have an idea if they want to sign one international pitcher. I also wouldn’t imply they’d rush to sign a TV deal to have the financial security to make the posting fee a non-issue.

All I’m saying is, it’s a convenient series of events that makes the signing of Tanaka look like a real possibility.

We’ll likely have a ton of additional money, we’re looking more at international signings, we have a history of quietly negotiating for pitching, and we’ve now got a scout in our employ who’s extensively watched Tanaka over the last year.

So, if sometime in November you hear about a “mystery team” in the running to acquire Tanaka, get excited – the Phillies signing him makes more sense than a lot of other teams.