There could yet be room for Tanaka in Oakland

If there is one team in the Major Leagues that doesn’t need Masahiro Tanaka, it’s the Oakland A’s.

That apparently doesn’t mean that the bidding for right-handed free agent starting pitcher from Japan will go on without the A’s having input.

    Veteran baseball columnist Bill Madden says he’s talked to one Major League executive sees the possibility of the A’s stealing into the posting process by while MLB teams mine Japan’s best talent. http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/madden-paying-100m-tanaka-big-league-gamble-article-1.1566422


Oakland has six starters for its five-man rotation – holdovers Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray and free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir – so innings will be tough to come by when spring training starts up in mid-February.

Tanaka is the hottest commodity on the market this month thanks in large part to the fact that it took MLB and Japanese officials the better part of the off-season to realign the rules for posting. Now that the posting fee maxes out at $20 million, it’s in a range where the A’s could jump in.

“Watch out for Oakland,’’ Madden quoted his executive as saying. “They’ve got as much money as any team, and they like doing these big international things – as with their signing of (Yoenis) Cespedes and the fact they were second to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman five years ago.’’

The A’s have walked down the road to Japanese starting pitching before, and they got burned by it. Oakland won the right to bid on Hisashi Iwakuma after the 2010 season and did not sign him. Iwakuma went on to sign a year later with Seattle and he and Felix Hernandez now make one of the best one-two punches of any rotation in the big leagues.

There are plenty of big-name players in the mix for Tanaka, who was 24-0, 1.27 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year. Teams have until Jan. 24 to put in bids. The highest bid earns the right to negotiate a contract with the 25-year-old. If there are matching multiple high bids, as seem almost certain to be the case, then Tanaka can negotiate with any of those teams.

There are likely to be in excess of a half dozen teams in the mix, including three AL West competitors, the Rangers, Angels and Mariners. Each of those clubs seriously needs one more good starting pitcher. If A’s general manager Billy Beane could take Tanaka off the table, it would be a serious coup.

Will the A’s join the group? It would make some sense. For one, he’s young, and that works well with the A’s overall strategy. For another, Oakland is a pitcher’s ballpark, which might appeal to Tanaka, the owner of a rather flat mid-90s fastball that is set off by a dynamic splitter with which he does most of his damage. And bringing Tanaka onboard would keep him from the clutches of the rest of the AL West.

From Oakland’s standpoint, the club could back load a contract so that most of the financial burden would come down the road, enabling the club to keep its current payroll level at a sane level and leave open the possibility of a trading him down the line.

If they were to do what they did with Cespedes and give him a four-year deal that made him a free agent before his fifth season rather than before his seventh season, Tanaka might find that appealing.

There are problems, to be sure. The A’s made a dip into Japanese baseball last year with shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and he never made it out of Triple-A Sacramento.

But the A’s do like to take the road less traveled, and this road could stretch from Rakuten to Oakland.

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.