As if the Los Angeles Dodgers weren’t busy enough extending the contract of Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, the cash-burning franchise remains the frontrunner to land top Japanese pitching prospect Masahiro Tanaka.
According to Fox Sports, Kershaw and the Dodgers have inched closer to a mega, record-setting deal, which could be announced before Friday’s 1 p.m. ET deadline to sign players who declared for arbitration. Last summer, the two sides nearly agreed to a seven-year, $210 million extension.
The final figures of the deal should remain in the $200 million range, and yet Los Angeles will still have more leftover to ink Tanaka, who’s projected as a second or third starter in the rotation next season.
While it’s still too early to accurately predict where Tanaka lands, reports indicate he is looking to play in a big market, and that his wife reportedly prefers the West Coast.
Teams have until Jan. 24 to sign the Rakuten Golden Eagles ace, and the Dodgers are reportedly competing with the Yankees, Cubs, Mariners, Angels, White Sox, and Diamondbacks.
In the 25-year-old’s last three seasons he dominated the Nippon Professional Baseball League with ERAs of 1.27, 1.87, and 1.27, going 24-0 in 27 starts this last year.
The Dodgers have spent hundreds of millions since the new ownership group took over last year, and are now poised to take the mantle held by the Yankees as the biggest spenders in baseball. Last year, New York had $232 million devoted to contracts, with L.A. right behind at $223 million.
The Dodgers also have a leg up with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, also representing Kershaw and fellow high-priced starter Zack Greinke.
The Yankees have been an arduous search to find another ace behind C.C. Sabathia. New York does have more money to play with now that they won’t have to pay Alex Rodriguez for the 2014 season, but will first have to shell out a $20 million posting fee just to begin negotiations with Tanaka.
After missing the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons, the Yankees are in serious need of another arm behind Sabathia, and could use former Japanese star Hiroki Kuroda to woo Tanaka.
Arizona might also be a player, but strictly from their interest in outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. The D-Backs were reportedly considering Choo’s asking price of $140 million before Texas snatched him up last month. Not two weeks ago, Tanaka was also reportedly Arizona’s No. 1 free agent target.
There was some question as to the number of career innings Tanaka has already pitched (1,315), but last week he underwent a physical in Los Angeles to squash any questions surrounding his durability, according to the L.A. Times. The visit was also a chance for potential suitors to make their pitch to Tanaka.
The White Sox and Cubs actually met with Tanaka during his stay in Los Angeles.
"The meeting was exploratory in nature," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement according to MLB.com.
"It was an opportunity for us to sit down with Masahiro and discuss how he potentially fits our vision for the Chicago White Sox for the next several seasons."
As pointed out by the Chicago Tribune, back in 2007 the Sox last beat out the Cubs for outfielder Kosuke Fukodome, but he later insisted on playing at Wrigley. That four-year, $48 million deal ended up as a big mistake for the Cubs, and it could be enough to ward off GM Theo Epstein.
The Cubs have spent next to nothing in free agency this year, and while they have great interest in Tanaka, they could miss out since they aren’t expected to truly compete for another two or three years. However, according to CSN Chicago, the Cubs are ready to offer Tanaka a nine-figure deal.
Seattle already inked Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million at the start of free agency last month, and they’ll likely have to pony up another $100 million, on top of the posting fee. Assuming he adjusts well to the transition, a one-two punch of Tanaka and Felix Hernandez, with Cano anchoring the lineup, could complete Seattle’s turnaround in less than two months.
The Angels have been the biggest spenders in baseball in the last two off-seasons, bringing on Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, but might be hesitant to pay a technically unproven starter more than Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.