LOS ANGELES -- In his latest column, ESPN’s Buster Olney tells us that some rival executives expect the Dodgers and New York Yankees to be the final teams left bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, one of the greatest pitchers ever to come out of Japan. Reports out of Japan suggest the same.
“The Yankees have the greater need, and maybe a little more pressure to sign Tanaka after learning they won't have to pay A-Rod in 2014,” Olney writes. “The Dodgers are perceived by some rival officials to be more shameless in their bidding, untethered to market prices shaped by other teams, and more driven by what they want.”
In a way, if you are a Dodgers fan, this isn’t any big surprise. In the last year-and-a-half, they’ve seen their team’s new owners make a trade that took on more than $250 million in salary and sign two free agent pitchers for another $200 million-plus.
But, from another angle, it’s an absolutely stunning possibility. The Yankees need Tanaka. Badly. The Dodgers just want him. If the Dodgers do end up with the right-hander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year, it would tell us that the Yankees are no longer the Yankees. The Dodgers are now the Yankees. Their stadium just happens to have palm trees running along it instead of a subway line.
Everybody knows what this could mean, right? It used to be the Yankees out-bid teams on what amounted to a whim. In 2000, they claimed Jose Canseco (and $1 million left of his salary) off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays even though Joe Torre had no plans to play him, simply because they were trying to keep him away from every other team.
The Yankees clearly have built their off-season around acquiring Tanaka, who might not begin the season as their No. 1 starter but -- they hope -- would emerge as their ace. He’d likely begin by pitching behind CC Sabathia, who led the American League in earned runs allowed last season. The next guy in New York’s rotation, Hiroki Kuroda, will turn 39 before Opening Day.
One National League GM told ESPNNewYork’s Andrew Marchand the Yankees look more like an 80-win team right now than a 90-win team, largely because of their pitching. The GM also believed the Yankees’ desperation would lead them to land Tanaka.
And the Dodgers? The last thing they are is desperate, particularly in regard to starting pitching. Even if Tanaka is as good as advertised, he’s not the Dodgers’ ace. They already have Clayton Kershaw, who has led the majors in ERA the past three seasons. It’s just kind of hard to top that.
He’d have stiff competition from Zack Greinke to be considered the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher. Greinke is sitting on the best ERA (2.63) of his career since his 2009 Cy Young season. If it takes Tanaka a while to adjust to the major leagues, he might not even be their No. 3 starter. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a 3.00 ERA last year and recently told Korean reporters he’s reporting early to spring training to get in better shape and avoid a sophomore slump.
If the Dodgers do land Tanaka, they’d have some unhappy campers in Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who would effectively have no rotation spots waiting for them as they work their way back from injuries. It would make some of the team’s emerging pitching prospects, Zach Lee, Ross Stripling and Chris Reed, largely irrelevant other than as trade chips. Of course, those are individual players’ problems, not Dodgers problems. Tanaka would give the Dodgers the best rotation in the National League, if they don’t already have it.
It’s just hard to imagine “want” can win the day over “need,” particularly when the Yankees are the ones feeling desperate. If the Dodgers do win the bidding, it’d be hard to find a team around baseball who would feel sorry for the Bronx Bombers.