For White Sox, pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka a successful vision quest

Junko Kimura

Failure to land prized pitcher ends dreaming, but leaves them no worse for the wear

For the White Sox, there's no shame in coming up short in the chase for Masahiro Tanaka, given how it ended up.

Tanaka landed with one of the two clear landing spots, signing a seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees. Kenny Williams expressed hope that money wouldn't be everything to Tanaka, but as most top-tier free agents do, he signed the most lucrative contract.

There isn't a clear estimate of the offer the White Sox put forth, except that it seems credible enough to make the final cut. The White Sox front office isn't in the specifics business, but Rick Hahn did say the Sox wanted it as much as others said.

"I will say there have been multiple reports about the magnitude of our offer, the seriousness of our offer and for once, these rumors seem to be somewhat accurate in terms of the intensity of our pursuit and our efforts to get this done," Hahn said. "In the end, the market took it to a level that we were just weren’t comfortable going to in terms of the commitment and the cost of the franchise going forward." [...]

"In the end, obviously he wound up elsewhere, but we view this as a situation where you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take, and it was worth the effort."

Besides the total worth of the contract and the $20 million posting fee, the Yankees also threw in an opt-out clause after four years, and a no-trade clause. That gives you some idea of the leverage Tanaka had, and you can see why the Sox couldn't and/or wouldn't want to hang.

I'm cool with it all, because the White Sox's documented pursuit of Tanaka took up more than two weeks of an incredibly slow period. Although it was great for the Sox to think of me and us, that's not the only secondary value this venture provided. Perhaps thinking of a trip to Los Angeles in the middle of winter, Hahn found some pleasure in the pursuit.

"It was a really nice opportunity to sit down face to face and articulate our vision for the future and why we think we’re on the precipice of something special and why we think this player in particular could be a part of that and how he’d fit in," Hahn said. "It’s not too often even with domestic free agents that you get an opportunity to lay out a vision and tell them why you could be part of this and why we’re pursuing you and really appreciated how this process has unfolded regardless of the result."

Likewise, White Sox players were happy to see the front office show enough confidence in the roster to make Tanaka worth shooting for. We already heard from Chris Sale, but here's Gordon Beckham.

"I was hoping we would land him," Beckham said Wednesday from an anti-bullying event at McClellan Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side. "I know they put in a strong bid and just came up a little short. I think Tanaka probably just wanted to go to New York anyway, is what it sounds like.

"We gave it a shot, and I think it shows a lot of the organization, of where they want to go and how they want this train to roll. I was excited to hear we were even interested because I feel like sometimes in years past we haven’t been."

More than anything, trying for Tanaka underscored the benefits of rebuilding without a complete teardown. The Sox needed Tanaka as much as any team did in terms of talent -- he would've made the Sox considerably more compelling and given them the faintest scent of a contender. The contract may not make sense, but it'd be sour grapes to deny the thrill of acquiring the talent and watching it establish itself.

That said, let's pretend the International Date Line became a wormhole and Tanaka ended up hitting the open market in early July of 2013. The Sox just endured their worst month in 26 years (and against a soft schedule!), players young and old were failing, the farm had no position players to offer, and their most tradeable asset sat on the DL with a rib injury. If Hahn made a vigorous attempt to sign Tanaka under these circumstances, your first question would be, "Huh?" And after that, "Why?"

(If you felt like more words were necessary, you might add, "... do they think he would be worth it?" Or, " ... do they think Tanaka would even consider it?")

Six months later, such an effort made a lot of sense for the Sox, and while it never really made enough sense for Tanaka, one could make a plausible appeal on the merits of the team without speaking out his or her ass. That's nice to know, and its use extends well beyond Tanaka. For starters, it'll sure come in handy at the Palmer House this weekend.

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