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.