The Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes will really begin -- slowly -- on Monday and could extend over the next three weeks until Tanaka makes his decision by the Jan. 24 deadline.
Even though the Yankees have the money and the desire, this isn't like the old days when they could automatically just outspend whomever they wanted.
There are several teams that could drive up the price on the Yankees or steal him away from them. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers are obvious teams that could go dollar-for-dollar with the Yankees.
But while all these three teams -- and dark-horse candidates, like the Arizona Diamondbacks -- could keep the 25-year-old Tanaka out of the Bronx, the team that is emerging as potentially the biggest threat is Robinson Cano's Seattle Mariners.
It's early on Tanaka watch. But constant theme from interested teams is: Watch out for #Mariners. Execs think they have one big move left
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 2, 2014
Dave Szymborski, in a recent Insider piece, went through why:
Seattle has a history of being a comfortable home for players from Nippon Professional Baseball and the wallet necessary to make the signing. And even more important, the Mariners have a pressing need for another top arm.
How bad was Seattle pitching last season? Despite starting with the No. 1 and No. 7 pitchers in the AL by Baseball Reference's WAR (Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez), the team's ERA+ of 86 was the second-worst in the AL, just barely ahead of the Houston Astros. The Robinson Cano signing was huge, but outside of that, the team has only been able to engage in its yearly ritual of accumulating designated-hitter types.
While the Yankees have a historical advantage over the Mariners, geography is on the Mariners' side and Iwakuma was a teammate of Tanaka with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Now, I don't know if they were good buddies or not, but if they were friendly, it could help the Mariners.
Ultimately, like nearly all of these transactions, it will come down to money and desire. The Yankees seem ready to fully abandon the $189 million goal, so there really doesn't seem to be any financial restraints.
It is somewhat pointless to say now who the favorite is because no one knows how far a team will go financially. In the Cano hunt, the Mariners were never the favorites until the final days when it was known they would go over $225 million and, ultimately, to $240 million.
So the winner will probably come down to who offers the most money. But if it's close, Cano's Mariners might force the Yankees to make another tough choice.