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 their starting third baseman, Juan Uribe, and left-handed reliever, J.P. Howell, and to add their 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.
Bell, originally signed by the Dodgers, has played in 100 major league games over three seasons for the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks. A career .195 hitter, the 25-year-old has played mostly third base. He and Brendan Harris, who had previously been signed to a minor league deal, will compete for a bench spot.
Demel, 28, is 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA in 72 relief appearances for the Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers have extended invitations to spring training to six nonroster players, including catcher J.C. Boscan, left-hander Daniel Moskan and infielder Clint Robinson.
There are of course trades that can still happen, but if we look strictly at the free-agent market there are some nice fits that can be picked out of the bargain bin.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
"We'd have to get a phone call or meeting that we're not expecting," Colletti said.
The Dodgers came here in search of a solution to the unsettled left side of their infield, and in search of relievers. They're still looking and probably still will be when the front office staff arrives back in Los Angeles Thursday evening.
The Dodgers have made more than one offer to third baseman Juan Uribe, but have gotten no closer to making a deal, apparently because Uribe is holding out for a two-year deal and the Dodgers would prefer to keep it to one. Meanwhile, Colletti said the team had made overtures to free-agent shortstops but wouldn't characterize how aggressive they've been.
Such a scenario would require Hanley Ramirez to move to third base, a far-from-ideal solution given his defensive struggles there and the fact he would prefer not to move again. In 2012, he moved to third base grudgingly in Miami, played third for the Dodgers for a while and then moved back to his natural position, shortstop.
"The question would be are we moving off of Uribe? We're not," Colletti said. "We have different people we continue to have discussions with, we're walking along some at a little different pace depending on what they're trying to accomplish. We've had conversations on four or five different variations of what the left side looks like.
Colletti said Matt Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, called him to apologize for his comments to several reporters Wednesday in which Stewart said Colletti told him that Kemp would not be traded. Colletti said he would have preferred that such talks remain private. Colletti said he called Stewart to arrange the meeting.
"He's called me and let me know that he probably spoke out of turn or whatever you want to call it, so that's fine," Colletti said.
Colletti said he has had no such meeting with the agent for Andre Ethier. He wouldn't divulge whether the topic of the Dodgers possibly trading Ethier came up.
"It may have, but you know what that was? That was a private conversation," Colletti said.
But the Dodgers continue to say they’re excited about what Kemp could bring to their team, if he’s healthy. Tuesday general manager Ned Colletti said Kemp should be physically ahead of where he was at the beginning of spring training 2013 when he reports in February. He has been lifting weights for more than a month.
It all figures to boil down to this: Will the Dodgers be blown away by another team’s offer? They’re not as interested in unloading most of Kemp’s $128 million contract as they are in restocking their farm system with prime talent.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at a hypothetical lineup with Kemp and another without him.
Carl Crawford LF
Yasiel Puig RF
Hanley Ramirez SS
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Juan Uribe 3B *
Andre Ethier CF
A.J. Ellis C
Alexander Guerrero 2B
*I’m assuming Uribe re-signs, because, A, I think he will and, B, it makes the exercise easier.
The first lineup has ideal left-right balance through the first five spots and more power than the latter, presumably because Kemp should provide more pop than Andre Ethier, whose home run power has been in steady decline. It also uses, in my opinion, Carl Crawford in a spot that better suits his skill set. Look at the numbers. He’s a better No. 2 hitter than leadoff guy. Once Guerrero settles in, if he’s getting on base, you could consider moving him into the leadoff spot and batting Puig anywhere from second to fifth, depending how he and Kemp are hitting.
All in all, the Dodgers look like a better team with Kemp than without him. It all hinges on his health and the Dodgers’ (and other teams’) perception of it.
At his first public appearance at baseball's winter meetings, Mattingly was greeted with 17 consecutive questions about his contract status, all of which he answered with a variation of, "I don't want to talk about it."
The 18th question was whether he now felt "sure" the team wanted him as its manager for the long term. Mattingly had expressed his doubts at an awkward end-of-season news conference when he also announced his 2014 option triggered when the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the playoffs.
"Everything I said that day, I'm not backing off anything I've said," Mattingly said. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."
Dodgers president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti also declined to discuss whether the team is negotiating an extension.
“That’s not where our concentration is right now,” Colletti said.
Colletti and manager Don Mattingly both said Tuesday they would be happy to go into next season with a starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett, with Chad Billingsley likely ready by May. Presuming the Dodgers don’t begin talks to acquire Price later in the winter, the only X factor could be Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and it remains uncertain whether his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles will make him available through the posting system.
Colletti met with the agent for third baseman Juan Uribe late Monday night, but it remains clear that the sides remain at odds about whether it will be a one- or two-year contract. Enrique Rojas reported that the Dodgers have offered Uribe a one-year deal with a 2015 option while the Chicago White Sox have offered him two years.
Monday, Colletti was growing impatient with the lack of action from Uribe’s camp.
“They’re more inclined to talk at this point about getting something done,” Colletti said.
Should the talks with Uribe fall through, Colletti said they have talked to Mark Ellis and Michael Young about returning, but there has been no dialogue with Kevin Youkilis.
Colletti said he has not met with the agents to discuss contract extensions for either Clayton Kershaw or Hanley Ramirez, who would be free agents following the upcoming season, but that he expects to after the winter meetings conclude.
Colletti did meet with Kershaw’s agent, Casey Close, but it was to discuss another client, long reliever Jamey Wright.
Colletti said the team expects outfielder Matt Kemp to be in better shape at the start of the upcoming spring training than he was the previous season. This time, Kemp is coming off two surgeries -- ankle and shoulder -- instead of one, but he has been able to lift weights for the past month, an activity that was curtailed after a more invasive shoulder surgery in 2012.
The ESPN Deportes report indicates that Uribe's camp is expected to make a decision soon.
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Of course, we’re not talking about a one-for-one trade. The Tampa Bay Rays are willing to trade their Cy Young-caliber left-hander, according to myriad reports, because they can’t afford to pay him as he nears arbitration. Kemp will make $128 million over the next six years. No-go, right?
But that doesn’t mean the sides couldn’t eventually line up for a deal, provided the Dodgers can get a nice return on Kemp or Andre Ethier, who are considered their two outfielders most likely to be traded.
The Dodgers’ farm system is thin, particularly at the upper levels, where teams like the Rays -- frugal but competitive -- will be looking for players. The Dodgers are hoping to hold on to most of their prospects -- guys like infielder Corey Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and pitchers Zach Lee and Julio Urias -- and aren’t interested in shipping out a big package of young talent, even for a player like Price.
But what if they could land a couple of well-regarded prospects for Kemp or Ethier and then use those players to land Price? It could be either part of a three-team trade or two separate transactions. It’s probably something the team has considered. To get higher-end prospects, the Dodgers likely would have to absorb more of either outfielder's salary, but that shouldn’t be a problem as the Dodgers embark on their new multibillion-dollar TV deal.
The Dodgers have fielded plenty of calls on all their outfielders. Eventually, those calls could turn into face-to-face meetings and then, according to general manager Ned Colletti, “we’ll see where it goes.” There's no reason it couldn't then turn into a different conversation.
The latest rumor has the Chicago White Sox emerging as possible suitors for Uribe. The Miami Marlins also have reportedly reached out to him.
Colletti said the Dodgers are considering moving on and concentrating their efforts on trading for a third baseman. Beyond Uribe, Colletti said, the team is not pursuing any other free-agent third basemen, probably the thinnest position in the market.
“Everybody can go do what they want to go do,” Colletti said. “Hopefully, this week we’ll have more conversations with them and at least get an update on their position. I’m in need of an update on their position.”
Uribe is seeking a two-year deal, it’s believed, while the Dodgers have signed only one-year deals with players in their 30s this winter. Uribe, 34, batted .278 with 12 home runs, the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the NLCS, after two abysmal seasons with the Dodgers. He signed a three-year, $21 million contract entering the 2011 season.