Tanaka has potential to alter look of AL West

With their relative surplus of pitching and relative paucity of wealth, the A’s don’t seem inclined to be in on the bidding for Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka in the coming weeks.

That doesn’t mean Oakland won’t be closely following the ins and outs of the Tanaka talk. The 25-year-old right-hander was made available for posting Thursday, and it wouldn’t be too outlandish a proposition to see him coming to rest with one of the A’s American League West competitors.

Tanaka, who was a simply unbelievable 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, stands to be the player with the most potential impact still on the open market this winter. The Yankees (yawn) are almost always the first club mentioned as coveting Tanaka, thanks to their big pockets and fragile starting rotation.

    But the Angels, Mariners and Rangers all figure to be in the hunt for Tanaka thanks to the new posting rules agreed to earlier this month by Major League Baseball and the Japanese baseball authorities.

The new rules seem to make it a little easier for teams without the wealth of the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers to score big in posting. And should any of those other three AL West teams land him (sorry, Astros), it would shake up the division, which has been won the last two years by the A’s.

The maximum posting fee has been frozen at $20 million. That seems like a lot, but it was just two years ago the Rangers put up $51.7 million for the right to negotiate with that season’s breakout Japanese star pitcher, Yu Darvish, then had to pony up $60 million over six years for his actual contract. (The posting fee goes to the Japanese team letting the player go.)

Under the new rules, the team with the highest bid gets to negotiate with the player, as was the case under the old system. But now if more than one team puts forward the same bid, Tanaka is free to negotiate with any of those teams.

It’s not inconceivable that in addition to the Yankees, Rangers, Mariners and Angels, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Cubs, among others, could be willing to risk $20 million for the chance of landing a pitcher who could be a game changer.

For all of that, the A’s could afford the $20 million, but any bidding war for a hot property like Tanaka would be against the A’s history, both in terms of finances and in the way general manager Billy Beane likes to do things.

In winning the last two West titles, the A’s have been able to boast the best pitching in the division. Tanaka could alter that balance if he lands in the West, particularly if he were to settle in Seattle, which already has Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the rotation. Seattle has already made one big splash with the signing of second baseman Robinson Cano and the Mariners, who have deep ties to Japan, would love to land Tanaka in an effort to eradicate a decade-long stretch without a post-season appearance.

Like the Mariners, the Angels have two-fifths of a strong rotation with C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. Tanaka would put the Angels, huge disappointments the last two seasons after the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, in position to erase disturbing memories of 2012 and 2013.

The Rangers have already struck gold in Japan with the addition of Darvish. Matt Harrison, a workhorse before back troubles last year, is healthy again and Martin Perez is the owner of a new four-year deal after a breakthrough season. Add Tanaka to that mix and Texas would be in possession of a formidable rotation, indeed.

Small wonder the A’s will be monitoring the pursuit of Tanaka, if only from afar.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.