- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Rakuten Golden Eagles may be intent on keeping their star pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, in Japan. They are preparing to offer him a record contract of 800 million Yen, or around $7.7 million, according to reports out of Japan, and may decline to make him available via the new posting system.
Bummer for the Dodgers, right?
On Wednesday, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told ESPNLA 710 there was "some chance," the Dodgers would make a big-splash move to upgrade their starting rotation and many people had Tanaka pegged at the top of the Dodgers' wish list.
Of course, Tanaka isn't the only potential top-of-the-rotation starter out there. David Price's days in Tampa Bay are numbered now that a big payday is approaching through arbitration and free agency is only two seasons away. Some people think the Dodgers are well-positioned to make a run at a Price trade. Not only would he give them arguably the two best left-handed pitchers in baseball, he would provide Cy Young-caliber insurance in case Clayton Kershaw elects to leave via free agency next fall. What's not to like about a rotation that would go Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Price, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren?
But is it feasible? Unlike acquiring Tanaka, landing Price would cost the Dodgers a steep price in young talent. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when the Indians engaged the Rays about Price, the names that came up were Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar, two young franchise building blocks. The report said that those two names were just "starting points."
Rays vice president for baseball operations Andrew Friedman has a Wall Street background and a history of buying low and selling high. The last time he traded a frontline starting pitcher, James Shields (who was four years older than Price and one Cy Young shy), he got a haul of talent from the Kansas City Royals: soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Wil Myers and three other prospects: pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
In previous seasons, Friedman helped keep the Rays competitive, as well as frugal, by making lopsided trades involving Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza. He traded Aubrey Huff for Ben Zobrist. That trade alone might make him a Hall of Famer. Since that time, Zobrist's cumulative WAR (Baseball Reference version) is 32.1. Huff's is 8.9.
Do the Dodgers even have the prospects to pique Friedman's interest? Shortly after the World Series, Baseball America ranked the Dodgers' farm system 19th in baseball. Unlike the Seattle Mariners, who might be able to acquire Price simply by including pitching prospect Tajuan Walker, the Dodgers don't seem to have the elite minor-leaguer to tilt the balance.
Their top prospect, according to Baseball America, is outfielder Joc Pederson. Most scouts consider Pederson a solid major-leaguer, but not necessarily a perennial All-Star. Similar things could be said about No. 4 prospect Zach Lee, who projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter. Shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias appear to have more upside, but they're both teenagers and the Rays typically look for more advanced prospects in order to compete for division titles despite a massive payroll disparity with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
There is, of course, one name that could shift the entire discussion: Yasiel Puig. It's no secret the Dodgers have an excess of outfielders, though Puig is, of course, the one they'd least like to trade. The Rays could offset the $28 million left on his contract with the new business having a Cuban star in Florida could generate.
It would be an extreme move by the Dodgers, one they would only likely consider if they could agree to an extension with Price beforehand. Admittedly, it's unlikely. Puig is too wildly popular in Los Angeles. It goes against baseball orthodoxy to trade an everyday player for a starting pitcher, but Price is no ordinary pitcher. Even last season, a big drop off from his Cy Young 2012 year, Price had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors.
It might not be popular, but it might be the easiest, if not only, way to land the world's best available starting pitcher.
14hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com
14hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com
1dAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com