After a flurry of activity, the offseason has been relatively quiet for several weeks now. We had the Hall of Fame announcement, which gave me a mixture of excitement and relief (Frank Thomas!) and disappointment (Bagwell, Biggio, and Piazza still aren’t in? What?). Frank Thomas has been my favorite player for my entire life and I suspect that will never change. I have been working on a piece about his initiation since Wednesday, but I want to do it right.
In the meantime, the biggest piece of news is that Masahiro Tanaka is visiting MLB teams in preparation of signing as a free agent with one of them, including the White Sox. The odds of the White Sox actually signing Tanaka are remote. Just the fact that reports are saying the Dodgers refuse to be outbid for him makes them a huge favorite. The Dodgers have the most money these days, and if they’re determined to spend it then there isn’t much other teams can do about it.* Then when you factor in that the Yankees have put themselves in a pretty desperate position (you know…for them, anyway) and seem to be depending upon signing the Japanese right-hander. Seattle has put a timer on competing and really need pitching behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Perhaps the Rangers, in the ultra-competitive AL West, decide they need more help in the rotation especially with Derek Holland now out for a large chunk of the season. And with $20 million as the cap on the posting fee, which you only pay if you sign the player, virtually any team is in on the negotiations.
But, the White Sox appear to be trying, so I suppose it’s not impossible.
With Chris Sale around, Tanaka would not have to be stretched as a #1. Furthermore, he could push Quintana to the #3 role, which is much more appropriate. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)
Currently the team is at $72 million in pre-arbitration commitments, with probably another ~$13 million to come via those agreements (Beckham, Viciedo, de Aza, etc.) and once you factor in filling out the roster with league minimum guys. That’s still a healthy $40 million below what they’ve run out for the past few years. And while the White Sox have made a lot of noise about how it’s such a hardship to spend $5 million more on the draft, every major league team will receive an extra $25 million this offseason as part of television revenue.
What’s more, Adam Dunn is set to depart for 2015, freeing up even more money moving forward. The team has money. Not Dodgers money, but as far as just matching their payroll in recent years – even ignoring that revenues are increasing league-wide – they could theoretically add a ~$20 million player and not even match last year’s salary.
So – with that in mind — what do the White Sox look like with Tanaka in the fold?
Obviously it improves the rotation. While the facile comparisons with Yu Darvish are misleading, Tanaka is absolutely the best pitcher available on the market. He projects to immediately slot in as a #2-3 starter, mostly due to his excellent command and plus splitter. A rotation of Chris Sale – Masahiro Tanaka – Jose Quintana – John Danks – Erik Johnson could absolutely be the staff of a playoff team.
As I have stated, I think the Tigers have taken a step back, and will continue to erode as their core ages out of their prime past 2014. The Royals gave up on six years of Wil Myers in exchange for two of James Shields, who will be a free agent after this season. The Twins are a train wreck outside of Joe Mauer and breathless hope for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The Indians are a solid team, although it feels as though their pitching is being held together with duct tape, dental floss, and hope (well, also their excellent team defense).
Tanaka is young enough that you could slot him in to be a mid-rotation sidekick for Chris Sale for years to come. Depending on how you feel about Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu, one wonders just how far away the team would be from competing for the division again with the addition of another plus starter.
Will the White Sox sign Tanaka? Almost certainly not. But, it’s not impossible. And the thought exercise lead me to several conclusions:
1. The White Sox still have money to spend. If there isn’t anything that they can spend it on this offseason and get good value for it, that’s fine. But perhaps if 2014 is a strong step forward, they will be ready to supplement their roster with some mid-tier or even high-end free agents for 2015.
2. Given several shrewd trades, if the upside on Eaton, Davidson, and Abreu hit, they are already in shape to be decent in 2014 instead of a doormat.
3. I remain convinced that the window is closing fast and hard for Detroit and Kansas City.
The optimistic offseason continues.
*I’m totally fine with the Dodgers getting Tanaka. They’re far, far away from impacting the White Sox in a multitude of ways, and it would be pretty entertaining to watch him slot in behind Kershaw and Greinke.