While the new posting system between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball affords just about every team the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Masahiro Tanaka action, there's a minimal threshold of interest required to make further talks worth it.
Take the Red Sox, for instance. They have the resources to pursue Tanaka, they have favorable reports on him, and they've been in contact with his agent, Casey Close. But they don't have the burning need to bolster their starting pitching, so while Tanaka landed in Los Angeles to meet with numerous MLB teams, Boston GM Ben Cherington doesn't know if his club will be one of them.
"The calendar doesn’t allow for him to meet with every team, nor does the calendar allow for every team to meet with him," Cherington said. "There has to be some sense on both sides that it’s time worth spending. That’s just to be determined. But that’s all I can say at this point really.
"We really respect him as a pitcher, his talent, he’s very accomplished obviously and he looks like a guy who is going to be a good major league starter right away. When that kind of pitcher/talent is available, it’s our job to do the work we need to do to get to know him and express a level of interest that makes sense for us. We’ve done that. We’ll see how it goes."
This being the case, the fact that a high-ranking delegation from the White Sox -- Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams and Robin Ventura -- met with Tanaka on Thursday takes on a little more meaning. The official line:
"The meeting was exploratory in nature," Hahn said in the statement. "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."
This statement continued, "Out of respect for Mr. Tanaka's decision-making process, the White Sox will have no further comment on the status of any additional conversations until he makes his final decision public."
It's yet to be seen whether the White Sox are legitimate players for the offseason's prize pitcher, but their interest is earnest.
It should be, at least until the price becomes unreasonable. And for them, maybe they're willing to go higher than we think.
They lured Jose Abreu to Chicago with a six-year, $68 million contract, outbidding a host of other suitors with a franchise-record investment because they believed Abreu had everything in his favor. He didn't just fit a need as a power-hitting first baseman, but he had a polished approach, age (27 years old) and the lack of draft pick compensation on his side.
The biggest argument against signing Abreu? The Sox had plenty of improvements to make elsewhere, so much so that Abreu's best years could pass before the club could really make use of them.
If the 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles can be believed, signing Tanaka would certainly make better use of Abreu's first three seasons. And Tanaka, while Japanese and a pitcher, has the other major factors in common with Abreu -- he's in his mid-20s, he's major-league ready, and it won't cost a draft pick to sign him.
It will cost plenty of money, and that's where it gets hairy. Jon Heyman says Tanaka is expected to sign for at least $100 million, which would fly in the face of White Sox convention. The last time the Sox bypassed their standard operating procedure, they signed John Danks, who underwent a severe operating procedure in the first year of a five-year, $65 million deal. (If Jerry Reinsdorf really favored the Sox over the Bulls, he'd try using the amnesty clause on that contract instead of Carlos Boozer's.)
If nine figures holds up, it seems like you can rule out the Sox. However, Ken Rosenthal suggests a team in this position could try to use an out clause to stay in it:
Doubt any of it matters, but teams looking for edges. Close negotiated an "out" in Greinke’s deal and had same clause in Kershaw proposal.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 9, 2014
Would not be surprised to see similar structure for Tanaka, or perhaps even a huge average salary on a short deal.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 9, 2014
Hahn has a history of drawing up unconventional payment plans, so perhaps the Sox think they can use smarts to stay in it. The Magic 8 Ball says OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD, but I'd love to see the kind of crazy contract structure that would make it happen. Seeing Tanaka pitch for the White Sox would be OK, too, I guess.