Dodgers Report: Masahiro Tanaka

Do the Dodgers need another starting pitcher?

January, 22, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- If you suspect that Dan Haren won’t bounce back or that Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley won’t regain their arm strength after surgery, you could argue that starting pitching depth is one of the Dodgers’ weaknesses heading into spring training.

Beyond Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, you find a long series of question marks.

And if you happened to represent one of the many free agent pitchers who remain unsigned, you might be compelled by this information to call Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. Several have. News that Masahiro Tanaka had agreed to sign with the New York Yankees figures to spur more phone calls to Colletti.

He is listening, which is not exactly the same thing as looking, but could lead to the same result.

There has been a serious logjam of starting pitchers piling up during the Tanaka saga. Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo, among others, remain unsigned. Santana and Jimenez received qualifying offers, which means that landing them would cost the Dodgers a draft pick. That seems unlikely, given the team’s imperative to rebuild the farm system gutted by Frank McCourt. Neither Garza nor Arroyo received qualifying offers, which could put them in play.

But, just as in the Tanaka talks, other teams -- the Toronto Blue Jays come to mind -- could find their need for starting pitching compels them to out-bid the Dodgers, who might not need any more starters at all.

It’s worth noting that Billingsley and Haren both have significantly better career ERAs than Santana, Garza or Arroyo. Arroyo, 36, is significantly older than any of the Dodgers' current projected starters, though also remarkably durable. It also seems fairly likely that at least one of the Dodgers’ mature pitching prospects -- Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, Chris Reed or Matt Magill -- will prove ready to contribute significantly in 2014.

Having missed on Tanaka, the Dodgers might be best served to step aside for the remainder of the free agency period.

At long last, the Dodgers are out-bid

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
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LOS ANGELES -- Let’s not pretend that losing out on Masahiro Tanaka isn’t a legitimate blow to the Dodgers.

He was their No. 1 target among free agent pitchers all along. They had scouted him extensively. They visited with him when he was in Los Angeles. They would have boarded a plane if he wanted to do the meeting in Tokyo -- or Sri Lanka or Timbuktu. They would have likely figured a way to get to the International Space Station if that was his appointed locale.

The Dodgers liked Tanaka. A lot. They wanted him in their rotation. A lot.

What they lacked was the spur of necessity, which is why we shouldn’t be totally surprised to see Tanaka get past them, agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees, a record contract for an Asian-born player.

As Tuesday moved along, the Dodgers, according to a source, started to feel the salary numbers were moving beyond what they were willing to lay out. As far as we know, that is the first time under the new ownership group that the Dodgers had stepped aside on a player they had prioritized as a premium target because the bidding got too intense. They've let relievers and bench players go because the numbers swelled beyond their comfort level, but not elite-level talent.

But look at it this way: Isn’t $155 million a tad steep for a No. 3 starter? That is quite likely what Tanaka would have been in the Dodgers’ rotation, which is no knock on him. Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year $147 million deal not that long ago to be the Dodgers’ No. 2, is a former Cy Young winner coming off a season in which he led the majors in winning percentage and had a 2.63 ERA in his 28 starts. When he was healthy, he was as good as any No. 2 starter in baseball.

Last season, the Dodgers played 10 post-season games and used their No. 3 starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, in just two of them.

Had the Yankees lost out on Tanaka, they might not have been competitive in their division next season, let alone contenders for a World Series. Is there anyone who doesn't view the Dodgers as an elite team in their league because of Wednesday morning's news?

With Clayton Kershaw locked up now for the next five to seven years, the Dodgers didn’t need a long-term hedge against losing their ace. For at least the next two seasons, the Dodgers have Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu leading their rotation, with a good corps of young arms starting to push ahead in the minor leagues. Greinke can opt out of his contract after 2015, but by then there could be a bumper crop of free agent pitchers hitting the market, including Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Homer Bailey.

They’ve been engaged in contract extension talks with Hanley Ramirez, arguably the best offensive shortstop in the game, and getting him locked up figures to be more likely now that Tanaka is out of the equation.

If Tanaka seamlessly adjusts to the major leagues -- far from an easy task pitching in the AL East -- the Dodgers might find themselves regretting not extending their offer. Then again, if things aren’t so smooth for Tanaka and the Dodgers are able to land David Price or another elite arm in July and then, as they’ve done in recent seasons, extend that pitcher after the season, they could be glad they let this opportunity pass.

In the end, that’s what all these decisions come down to for teams: costs and opportunities and opportunities are relative to a team’s needs.

Five somewhat unobvious reasons to pursue Tanaka

January, 16, 2014
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The Dodgers have given every indication they're still in talks to land Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka, even after agreeing to a record seven-year contract with their homegrown ace, Clayton Kershaw.

Whether the Dodgers kick in another $140 million or so could boil down to how much they think the pitcher is worth to their World Series push and their efforts to rebuild a brand diminished under Frank McCourt. Let's look at some potential motivations for chasing Tanaka aside from the fact that he's really, really good and teams like good players:

Variety

The Dodgers wouldn’t just have three or four of the two dozen most talented pitchers on earth next season, they’d have a lot of different looks to throw at hitters.

Tanaka is often described by scouts as an extreme control pitcher with a good, not overpowering, fastball and a devastating split-finger pitch. That description fits the Dodgers’ No. 4 starter, Dan Haren, perfectly, or at least it did when he still had a low-90s fastball. The Dodgers would probably split those two up in the rotation, perhaps using Tanaka as the No. 2 starter and Haren as the No. 5 starter.

The No. 1 starter, Kershaw, is a power left-hander with two dominant breaking balls. The other lefty, Hyun-Jin Ryu, is a finesse lefty who changes speeds and locations. Greinke would be the Dodgers’ hardest-throwing righty, with a similar repertoire to Kershaw’s from the other side.

The Long Term

The Dodgers have developed this little habit of giving pitchers opt-out clauses in their contracts when they negotiate, so what initially looks like this rock-solid rotation for the foreseeable future isn’t quite that bankable. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out. Zack Greinke has one. Hyun-Jin Ryu has one.

Greinke can opt out after 2015 if he’s willing to leave $71 million on the table, which isn’t out of the question if he has two more seasons like this past one. He’d be just 32 by then. Ryu can opt out after 2017 if he pitches 558 innings over the next four seasons, an easily obtainable total. He’d be just 31. Kershaw can opt out the following season, when he’s 30, which seems like a no-brainer if he continues pitching close to as well as he has and payroll inflation continues unchecked.

So, getting Tanaka signed to a six- or seven-year deal would give the Dodgers a touch more confidence that they won’t be in rebuild mode as these contracts start to reach their milestones. Then again, Tanaka is represented by the same agent, Casey Close, who represents Kershaw and Greinke, so he might just have one, too. Ugh.

Global Appeal

The Dodgers dispatched a group of marketing executives to Asia this winter to drum up business, trying to capitalize on the fact that Ryu might be the biggest sports celebrity in South Korea. The team would have similar opportunities in Japan. Tanaka wouldn’t have the novelty factor for Japanese fans, who have seen plenty of players become major stars in Major League Baseball since Hideo Nomo broke the ice. But he would be the Next Big Thing, likely attracting 30 or 40 reporters to cover his every move.

Beyond sponsorship deals, the Dodgers are competing with the other West Coast teams to have the greatest brand penetration across the Pacific. They already have a head start, playing in Australia will help, and Tanaka would cement them as the Pacific Rim’s team.

Competition

Getting Tanaka would put heat on some of the veterans trying to find room in the Dodgers’ rotation. They may not like it, but if they respond properly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Dodgers.

Presumably, signing Tanaka would make Haren the No. 5 starter. That means Josh Beckett would have to open some eyes in spring training just to secure a future as a major-league pitcher. Haren would have to pitch well to hold on, especially if Chad Billingsley returns to form by May or June, as they hope he will.

The Dodgers then could stockpile their young arms, guys like Zach Lee, Ross Stripling and Chris Reed, at Triple-A and Double-A, giving them appealing reserves they really haven’t had for several years. Those guys would have to pitch well to put themselves at the front of the line.

If everyone on the 25-man roster stays healthy, the Dodgers would have some roster juggling to do by the end of spring training and Beckett could find himself in all sorts of trade rumors, but the Dodgers are getting used to that kind of thing.

Trade chips

Needs will arise between now and next July that no one is anticipating. Remember last April, when a surplus of starting pitching became a shortage? The extra outfielder problem proved a not-enough-outfielders problem in the playoffs.

Landing Tanaka would allow the Dodgers to consider moving a top-flight prospect or two between now and the trade deadline, something they’re now loathe to consider. The Dodgers appear to have a nice wave of younger pitching talent on the horizon with guys like Julio Urias and Chris Anderson, who both started pro ball last summer.

Tanaka and Kershaw are both 25. That means, if their bodies hold up, they’re really not much older than the next wave of prospects. That makes at least one or two of those prospects -- Lee, Stripling and Reed, say -- potentially expendable. From the organization’s standpoint, that’s a good thing.

Would Dodgers steal Tanaka from the desperate Yankees?

January, 14, 2014
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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.
LOS ANGELES – We’re essentially reading between the lines trying to gauge the Dodgers’ level of interest in Masahiro Tanaka, but right now they’re not exactly professing a burning desire to land the 24-game winner out of Japan.

Wednesday Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he has had a couple of conversations with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, but described the talks as in the “feeling-out,” stage. Thursday Dodgers president Stan Kasten indicated the Dodgers aren’t expecting to land Tanaka.

“You can be assured we’ll investigate everything and, if there’s a way that it made sense, I’m sure we would consider it,” Kasten told Mark Willard and Ben Lyons on ESPNLA 710 Thursday. “But I wouldn’t predict it, I wouldn’t hang our hat on it, because I think the team we have right now in place is ready to go to spring training, ready to start the season and ready to compete and win. That’s what we’re all here for.”

Teams willing to pay the $20 million posting fee to Tanaka’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, may negotiate with the pitcher between now and Jan. 24. The New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners all have been linked to Tanaka.

Dodgers pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka advances (slowly)

January, 8, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers continue to engage the agent for Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, whose major league future figures to be decided in the next couple of weeks.

Teams willing to pay the $20 million posting fee to Tanaka’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, have until Jan. 24 to reach a deal with the 25-year-old right-hander. Colletti said he doesn’t necessarily expect it to take that long before Tanaka makes his decision. Competition for Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year, figures to be intense, with the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and, perhaps, Seattle Mariners among the other interested clubs.

Colletti said he has had a couple of conversations already with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, who also happens to represent Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

“I talked to Casey as soon as they announced he was going to be posted and as soon as they announced Casey would represent him,” Colletti said. “Obviously, Casey and I go back quite a while. They’re in a feeling-out process. They’re trying to learn about different cities, different teams, different markets, how teams are constructed going forward. You know, it’s a big decision for the player, too, so we’ve had those types of conversations and we’ll continue to see where it goes.”

ESPNNewYork’s Ian O’Connor quoted one Yankee source saying that club would “be heavily involved with Tanaka, very aggressive and at the top of the market, but won't get reckless and stupid,” which might be a fair characterization of the Dodgers’ position as well. Tanaka is expected to command a contract in excess of $100 million, plus the posting fee.

Speaking of his off-season approach in general, Colletti gave a hint that, if the Dodgers don’t sign Tanaka, their major off-season moves could be behind them. Aside from the Tanaka discussions, Colletti’s other priority is to find a utility infielder.

“We like to strike early. We don’t cast a wide net and then hope to bring in two or three out of 40,” Colletti said.

Dodgers GM open to adding another star pitcher

December, 18, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Wednesday his team could be in the market for a top-flight starting pitcher between now and spring training.

In an appearance on 710 ESPNLA, Colletti was asked about the possibility of making a play for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who said earlier this week he would like to come to the United States, or Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, who is rumored to be available on the trade market.

“I think there’s some chance to that. There are a lot of dynamics that we’re not aware of yet,” Colletti said. “You kind of pointed to a couple of them there and that’s accurate. We’ll see. Any time we see a player that we think can help our club, we make an inroad to find out what the rest of the dynamics are.”

The Dodgers have three healthy returning starters in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and they signed Dan Haren to a $10 million, one-year deal last month. Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are coming off surgery.

Colletti said the Dodgers owners have kept an open mind about making a big move this off-season. So far, the Dodgers’ biggest expenditure has been a four-year, $28 million deal with Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero.

“Thankfully, [the owners] give us the opportunity to think big things and to do some things that are bold here and there,” Colletti said. “That’s a great thing, not a good thing.”

-- Colletti wouldn’t categorically dismiss the possibility of trading Matt Kemp, whose agent, Dave Stewart, told reporters last week Kemp was off the trade bloc.

“I can’t necessarily answer that, because I don’t know when the phone’s going to ring with something that changes that,” Colletti said. “Our intent is to keep our outfielders, our intent is to get them healthy and get them productive. We wouldn’t be doing our job if the phone rang and we wouldn’t take the call. People have asked us about our outfielders, just in general. I say, ‘Hey, you know what? If you’ve got an interest, tell me who it’s in and what type of interest it is.’ So, that’s kind of where it is.”

-- Colletti made it sound as if a decision about Kershaw's long-term future is in the pitcher's hands, which makes sense considering ESPN’s Buster Olney reported earlier this winter that the Dodgers offered Kershaw what amounted to a lifetime contract (valued at about $300 million) last season. Kershaw is eligible for arbitration next season and would be a free agent starting next November unless he signs an extension.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep him and, hopefully, he likes L.A. enough and the Dodgers enough and his situation here enough to want to be a part of it, but admittedly guys like him don’t come around very often,” Colletti said.

Masahiro Tanaka drama is worth tracking

December, 17, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- The chances of it happening seem to be dimmer by the day, if not the hour, but if the Dodgers have one big move left in them, it’s hard not to think it’s making a play for Masahiro Tanaka.

He’s better than any of the free agents left on the market. Unlike a trade for someone like David Price -- who is, admittedly, more bankable -- signing Tanaka wouldn’t cost the Dodgers any of their precious and finite stock of minor league talent. It wouldn’t even cost them a draft pick.

It would have international business appeal, giving the Dodgers the newest, brightest Japanese star to go with one of the brightest Korean stars, Hyun-Jin Ryu. In conjunction with their trip to Australia to open the season, it could solidify the Dodgers as a favorite team of the Pacific Rim.

But is it even remotely feasible? In his latest post for ESPN Insider, former major league general manager Jim Bowden, likely drawing on conversations with other executives, writes that Tanaka is the Yankees' to lose.

“If Tanaka gets posted, there is no doubt the Yankees will bid the maximum $20 million and then outbid the market,” Bowden said.

But if there’s one team that not only can, but might, outbid the Yankees, isn’t it the Dodgers? Thus far this winter, the Dodgers have made incremental moves, the kind that round off the corners of a roster. They have spent a total of $64.25 million to keep starting third baseman Juan Uribe and left-handed reliever J.P. Howell, and to add No. 4 starter Dan Haren and starting second baseman Alexander Guerrero.

A year ago, they spent nearly that much on Ryu alone, then kicked in another $147 million for Zack Greinke.

How much would Tanaka cost the Dodgers, or anyone else? That’s tough to say. Assuming his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, honors his wishes and posts him, it would spark a condensed free-agency period of 30 days. Any team that agrees to pay the posting fee, presumably $20 million, could begin negotiating with Tanaka’s agent. It would entail some risk for teams who aren’t happy with their starting rotation, since they may not know if they have him until just before spring training. By then, the other free agents have already signed.

The Dodgers are in a better position. They say they're content to go into spring training with Josh Beckett as their presumptive No. 5 starter and Chad Billingsley not more than a couple of months away from being a contributor.

I happen to believe the Dodgers when they say they don’t necessarily expect to make a major splash this winter. If you look at the history of new ownership groups, they typically come in with a bang and then let things settle for a few years. The Dodgers are intent on rebuilding their once-proud development system, so at some point they have to just let things take root.

But if you’re going to make one more loud noise, it may as well be gambling on a 25-year-old with a world of promise and a world curious to see how he’ll do.

What did the Dodgers accomplish at the winter meetings?

December, 12, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It’s not entirely fair to say the Dodgers left the winter meetings without adding to their roster. In a trade with the New York Mets Thursday, they landed Seth Rosin, a 6-foot-6 24-year-old right-handed pitcher who had a 4.33 ERA at Double-A last season. The Mets had just taken Rosin in the Rule 5 draft from the Philadelphia Phillies, who had left him off their 40-man roster.

Not exactly the name Dodgers fans were hoping for, perhaps?

The Dodgers, always popular with agents and other teams because they spend money and have an active general manager, arrived at the Swan and Dolphin Resort here as a magnet for attention. They left it early Thursday surrounded by silence, but this should be far from alarming to Dodgers fans for two primary reasons.

For one thing, they arrived with far humbler aspirations than most people figured. They were more intent on finding a solution at third base or shortstop, signing a couple of relievers and, maybe, a bench guy than they were in trading Matt Kemp, landing David Price or zeroing in on Masahiro Tanaka.

And, for another thing, they still have nearly two months before they begin spring training.

“It’d be great to establish your team by the end of the calendar year and have it all set, but you know what, we know that that doesn’t always happen,” general manager Ned Colletti said.

So, let’s take a look at the still-unfilled needs and how things evolved in the past four days in Florida:

The Infield

The Dodgers have options, but before too much longer, they’re going to need to turn those options into an actual infield. If they can’t re-sign Juan Uribe -- and indications are they’re hung up by his agent’s demand for a two-year deal -- they continue to talk about sliding Hanley Ramirez to third base.

That would give them the option of signing a free-agent shortstop. Stephen Drew is the best option left in free agency, but he would cost the Dodgers a draft pick, a commodity they’re hesitant to give away as they look to restock their system. They could also use Alexander Guerrero at shortstop, his natural position. In that scenario, they would make a push to re-sign Mark Ellis and those conversations have continued, Colletti said.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers can’t get a look at Guerrero’s shortstop skills, because his Dominican winter league team is trying to win a championship and is using what it views as its best option, Jonathan Diaz. Colletti recently dispatched special assistant Jose Vizcaino to the Dominican to give them a report on Guerrero. What did he say?

“Hard worker, wants to be great, learning second base, good shortstop,” Colletti said.

If that’s an accurate report, Guerrero looks like the hinge that is allowing the Dodgers to take their time in locking up their starting infield, but given the fact Guerrero has never played a major-league game, it seems like a risky move. Look for the Dodgers to land one of the two veterans, either Uribe or Ellis, in the coming weeks.

The Outfield

No matter what Matt Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart says, there are no guarantees the Dodgers will arrive at Camelback Ranch with the four starting outfielders they now have on their roster. They could trade Andre Ethier or, maybe, Carl Crawford. And, though the Dodgers assured Stewart they’re not shopping Kemp, they could still part with him if a team overwhelms them with an offer of talented young players.

But indications are the Dodgers haven’t received any interesting offers and will open spring training with all four. They might even travel to Australia for Opening Day with all four. Beyond that, all bets are off.

Manager Don Mattingly said he expects to have them all next season and he views that as a strength rather than a weakness.

“It’s a good problem to have, for me,” Mattingly said. “I really like it that people are saying you can’t have four. We had four last year that never seemed to work out, but there’s nothing wrong with depth.”

The Bullpen

According to the Denver Post, the Colorado Rockies are making “real progress,” on signing left-hander J.P. Howell. If they’re willing to offer him a three-year deal, the Dodgers likely won’t be willing to match or trump it.

That could prompt the Dodgers to turn their attention to right-handed relievers and to hope that Onelki Garcia is ready to pitch in the major leagues as a complement to their only proven lefty reliever, Paco Rodriguez. There are still plenty of right-handed relievers left and Colletti said the market has been “locked up” lately. Howell’s signing could unlock it and allow the Dodgers to shore up their bullpen quickly.

Colletti hopes to add two more relievers. One could well be former Dodger long man Jamey Wright. The Dodgers have been in discussion with Wright’s agent, Casey Close. The other figures to be a higher-profile move as the Dodgers have their sights set on landing another pitcher with closing experience.

The Rotation

It appears that any team willing to offer a $20 million posting fee will have the right to speak with the best free agent starting pitcher available, Masahiro Tanaka. That’s assuming Tanaka convinces his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, to post him.

If he is made available, it’s too early to rule the Dodgers out as a possible landing spot though the latest indications are that the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox could be his most aggressive pursuers. The Dodgers have said they are happy with their starting rotation going into spring training and they wouldn’t seem to have the right prospects to land David Price, but they also have been keeping closely abreast of negotiations over the new posting system.

If Dodgers fans get excited thinking about a rotation with North America’s best starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and Asia’s greatest pitcher, Tanaka, you can bet that Dodgers executives do, too.

Dodgers May Still Chase Tanaka

December, 11, 2013
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Mark Saxon talks to Karl Ravech about a Matt Kemp trade that is very unlikely and how the Dodgers might still be in for Masahiro Tanaka.

Is the Dodgers starting rotation settled?

November, 29, 2013
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Let's assume for a moment that Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is the best free agent starting pitcher available. Let's assume that the Dodgers are willing to wait for the new posting system between the Japanese and major leagues to be worked out, which might not happen until mid-December.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
AP Photo/Kyodo NewsMasahiro Tanaka is the hot name on the pitching market, but does he really make sense for the Dodgers?
Let's assume the Dodgers are willing to spend the $100 million or more it might take to sign Tanaka between the posting fee and his contract.

How, exactly, would that work out? After signing Dan Haren to a $10 million, incentive-laden deal and assuring him he would be a member of the team's rotation, the Dodgers now have four healthy starters and one rotation spot left for two pitchers coming off surgery, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley.

"If something else comes our way, we'll take a look at it. I'm not going to close the door on any more starters," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said during the conference call to announce Haren's deal. Colletti points out that one of the prevailing story lines of spring training was what the Dodgers would do with eight starting pitchers. By the end of April, they'd already resorted to pitchers who were No. 9 and 10 on their spring training depth chart, Stephen Fife and Matt Magill.

So, yes, pitching depth is a good thing, one of the key assets for teams looking to win their divisions. But it's one thing to shuffle Chris Capuano to the bullpen or arrange a hasty trade to part with Aaron Harang. It's another thing to deny an opportunity to return from injury to two pitchers you owe more than $30 million combined.

Beckett, who makes $15.75 million next season, is expected to be ready at the start of spring training after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. There is, of course, great uncertainty around Beckett's recovery. A similar injury just forced the St. Louis Cardinals' Chris Carpenter to retire, though he pitched effectively after the surgery in September and October of 2012.

Billingsley had reconstructive elbow surgery April 25. The Dodgers are saying they expect him to be pitching by May or June, which would seem to be on the optimistic side given that most pitchers coming off Tommy John operations need 12 to 18 months to recover fully. Stephen Stasburg returned from his procedure after 13 months and pitched well.

According to Dr. Michael Kaplan, ESPN's consulting medical expert, roughly 75 percent of elite pitchers "come back to full pitching and their full potential." Kaplan made his comments in regard to Strasburg three years ago.

It would be a gamble to count on Billingsley and Beckett, but not unreasonable to count on one or the other. The Dodgers have better in-house alternatives than they did a year ago. They still have Fife and Magill, but they have more promising prospects pushing from below. They view Ross Stripling, who had a 2.78 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga, and Zach Lee, who had a 3.22 ERA there, as viable alternatives some time next season.

Haren seems like an adequate replacement for Ricky Nolasco and, if he can bounce back to 2011 form, a major upgrade. So, while the Dodgers won't rule out another splash in the pitching market, it might be wiser to sit this one out.

Winter wish list: Starting Pitching

November, 18, 2013
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For a team picked by many to win the World Series next year, the Dodgers aren’t exactly the complete package just yet. At the top of their priority list for offseason upgrades is completing a starting rotation that only has three bankable pitchers at the moment.

Granted, “bankable,” might be an understatement for a trio that includes two Cy Young winners (including a two-time winner) and a Rookie of the Year contender. But beyond Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers have nothing but questions.

Back in September, five months removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, Chad Billingsley was feeling great. He was hoping to be throwing off a mound some time early in 2014 and competing by spring training. Maybe it will happen, but most pitchers need a little more time than that to return from Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers can’t write Billingsley’s name into their plans until they see him pitching again, pain-free. It could be May or June before that happens.

Josh Beckett is even more of a mystery, primarily because he’s four years older than Billingsley and more than 1,900 innings into his major league career. Beckett had a rib removed in July to ease the discomfort stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome. He was hoping to be ready in February or March, but again, much is still unknown.

The Dodgers don’t seem confident in their internal options at the moment. That's not surprising since journeyman Matt Palmer led their Triple-A team in innings, Matt Magill struggled badly in his last two major-league starts, Stephen Fife got hurt and most of the team’s top pitching prospects were in Class-A ball last year.

So, of all the Dodgers’ needs, adding rotation depth will be at the top of their priority list going into next month’s winter meetings and, probably, beyond. Let’s explore some options:

Masahiro Tanaka: We’ve already discussed this possibility, so we’ll keep this fairly concise. It speaks volumes about the simultaneous rise in free-agent prices and decline in free-agent talent that teams are seriously considering making a run at the best pitcher in Japan given the costs involved. MLB and the Japanese league are still working out details of the new posting system, but it’s widely believed Tanaka’s team will get more than the previous record of $52 million and that the total cost of signing Tanaka could approach $150 million. He’s coming off a magical season and only 25 years old, but just a year ago, that was the going rate for a Cy Young-caliber pitcher who had already proven himself in the majors, eg., Zack Greinke.

On the plus side, the Dodgers wouldn’t have to surrender a draft pick to sign Tanaka, he would fit perfectly into their push to get younger, he’d help them own the Pacific Rim in terms of marketing and the posting fee wouldn’t count against the luxury tax. Oh, and he was 24-0 last year, so there’s that. Some people have taken to comparing the Dodgers to the New York Yankees. We’ll find out, because the Yankees might be their primary rivals for Tanaka.

Chances: Strong

David Price: Imagine a rotation with the two best left-handed starters in baseball sandwiched around Greinke. At that point, who cares who the fifth starter is? You or I could probably do it and the Dodgers could still win 95 games. He just turned 28, has a lifetime 3.16 ERA and averages 199 strikeouts per year. He’d probably thrive even more pitching in the National League. If the Dodgers could acquire him and then agree to a multi-year extension, he could also give them some insurance in case, somehow, they couldn’t reach a long-term deal with Kershaw. On the other hand, Tampa Bay hasn’t thrived in the toughest division in baseball for all these years because it makes bad decisions. The Rays are going to want a quality return of young talent to part with Price and, even if the Dodgers had all those pieces to trade, it would drain an already-thin system.

Chances: Slim

Ricky Nolasco: He struggled in September and gave up a punishing home run to Matt Holliday in the playoffs, but when the Dodgers acquired him in June, he was the perfect addition to their rotation. He added quality depth. Could he be the answer in the long term? He’s from Southern California and said he wanted to remain a Dodger. Keeping Nolasco just might prove too pricey for the return. There were reports out of last week’s general manager meetings that Nolasco already had a four-year deal in hand, with the Minnesota Twins apparently in serious pursuit. Is he worth $60 million or more? It’s an overheated market for pitching and Nolasco seems like the embodiment of that.

Chances: Slim

Hiroki Kuroda: He gets older, but the results stay the same. In six seasons in the major leagues, four of them with the Dodgers, Kuroda has never had an ERA higher than 3.76. The past two seasons, he has given the New York Yankees 421 innings and posted a 3.31 ERA. He could probably be signed on a one-year deal. Perfect, right? No, because he rejected the Yankees’ $14.1 million qualifying offer, which means two things. He wants to be paid more than that if he’s going to stay in the U.S. and he would cost the Dodgers a valuable draft pick, which would run counter to their rebuild-the-system push. Plus, he’ll be 39 next year.

Chances: Slim

Other free agents: Ervin Santana and Matt Garza have their appeals, but not at the price tags they’re likely to command. Bartolo Colon might be available on a reasonable one-year deal and wouldn’t cost the Dodgers a draft pick, but he turns 41 next May. With the exception of Tanaka, it’s an exceptionally flawed market for free agent starting pitchers and it seems like the Dodgers are more than aware of that. Much as they’d like to improve their rotation, they might be better served to sit this one out.

Chances: Slim

Other trade candidates: There have been reports that both the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers have engaged the Dodgers in trade talks lately involving one of the Dodgers’ spare outfielders. If the Dodgers are willing to move Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, and it certainly appears they are, they might be able to land a starter that way. If Texas isn’t willing to part with Elvis Andrus, for example, what if the Dodgers could land Ian Kinsler and Alexi Ogando in some kind of multi-player transaction? Texas has a deep system, so the Dodgers might be able to land a Triple-A arm that would be ready to help them at some point this season. And, of course, if the Dodgers are willing to field offers for Yasiel Puig, there’s no telling the kind of talent they could get in return, including the most coveted treasure of all, a quality starting pitcher or two.

Chances: Strong

The costs and benefits of pursuing Masahiro Tanaka

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
1:54
PM PT
The Dodgers are interested in Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka, which should surprise absolutely no one.

Tanaka is widely regarded as the best free agent pitcher available this winter, the Dodgers have been scouting him for months -- at least -- and the team has nothing but questions in its rotation beyond a rugged top three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

But is Tanaka, who went an astonishing 24-0 in the regular season and pitches in the Japanese version of the World Series on Saturday, worth a Greinke-sized outlay of cash? And can the Dodgers afford to wait around, possibly letting other free agents go, while Major League Baseball and the NPB work out a new posting system, the system runs its course and they start the negotiating process? Tanaka, according to reports, doesn't even have an agent yet.

To focus the offseason on Tanaka could pose a considerable risk, but it’s not necessarily the wrong play, particularly if you’re underwhelmed by the alternatives of Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, Bartolo Colon, Hiroki Kuroda and Ervin Santana, some of the other free agent starters on the market.

Tanaka, who turned 25 today, had a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Eagles over 212 innings and there are scouts who think he has the best split-finger fastball in the world. He’s not the power pitcher Yu Darvish is, but some scouts say he has better command and 24-0 (in a highly competitive league) is 24-0.

The Dodgers took a bigger risk, baseball-wise, on Ryu, who was the first player to jump directly from the Korean pro league to the majors, and that panned out brilliantly. Ryu finished tied with Stephen Strasburg for eighth in the NL with a 3.00 ERA.

The Dodgers will have competition, of course, with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs rumored to be particularly keen on Tanaka. The Texas Rangers had to pay $51.7 million just to talk to Darvish two years ago and some anonymous team executives told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan they expect Rakuten to collect between $75 million and $100 million in a posting fee. If that’s the case, the Dodgers would be looking at spending somewhere in the neighborhood of Greinke’s six-year, $147 million deal last December.

For that price, the Dodgers could re-sign Nolasco and a couple of other free agent starters, giving them a bounty of options in spring training, with Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett coming off major surgeries.

But consider the benefits of Tanaka. Signing him would not cost the Dodgers a draft pick. His posting fee wouldn’t count against the luxury tax. Having the two biggest pitching stars from Korea and Japan couldn’t hurt the Dodgers’ global marketing efforts. The team is allocating resources to drum up sponsorship deals with Korean companies this winter.

And then there’s this: What if he’s as good as his numbers suggest? The Dodgers could have the Pacific Rim’s three greatest pitchers, Korea's Ryu, Japan's Tanaka and the U.S.'s Kershaw. And what’s the worth of the Dodgers’ first World Series title in 26 years? Let the average fan answer that and it's probably in the range of, "Whatever it costs."

Dodgers have scouted Masahiro Tanaka

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
3:33
PM PT
The best pitcher in the Japanese league has already lured both Southern California teams across the Pacific.

The Dodgers, like the Angels, have scouted Japanese right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, according to a source. Tanaka is 21-0 with a 1.24 ERA for the Rakuten Eagles and he could benefit from what is a mediocre crop of free-agent pitchers on the market this fall.

The Dodgers signed a 19-year-old Japanese prospect, Takumi Numata, to a minor-league deal Monday. They likely scouted Tanaka while they were there.

The Dodgers will go into 2014 with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in their rotation, but they have some uncertainty beyond that. Ricky Nolasco will be a free agent and Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off serious injuries.

Speculation is that teams could have to pay $25 million or more to Tanaka’s team just to win the right to negotiate with him. The Dodgers paid Ryu’s Korean team $26 million before signing him to a six-year, $36 million deal in December.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239