Rosenthal: Japan’s Tanaka could end up in desert as D-backs ace

Masahiro Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season.


The Arizona Diamondbacks cannot be ruled out as major players for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, not after giving serious consideration to free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

While the D-backs did not make Choo a formal offer, they knew his price and likely would have intensified their interest if they had failed to acquire outfielder Mark Trumbo, according to major league sources.

Choo’s agent, Scott Boras, had informed teams that they only could enter the discussions by bidding in the seven-year, $140 million range, sources said. The Yankees reportedly made such an offer. The D-backs, after including ownership in their internal discussions, were open to the idea, sources said.

Instead, the D-backs ended up acquiring Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels in a three-team trade on Dec. 10. Choo signed his seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers on Dec. 27, choosing a team that plays in a state with no income tax and projects to be stronger than the D-backs, at least at the moment.

The Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners and Cubs are among the many teams expected to pursue Tanaka, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season. The Diamondbacks, facing fierce competition, could opt to make a pre-emptive strike and sign a major league free agent such as righty Matt Garza for less money.

Tanaka, however, remains the D-backs’ No. 1 target. Club officials do not expect to meet with him in Japan; the pitcher’s agent, Casey Close, is discouraging such visits, sources said. But at this point, the D-backs expect to stay involved in the bidding, according to sources; the deadline for Tanaka to sign with a major league club is three weeks from Friday.


Any team that signs Tanaka must pay a $20 million posting fee to his Japanese club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. If the pitcher’s total salary reaches $120 million, the total outlay would match the $140 million that Boras wanted for Choo — money the Diamondbacks were prepared to spend.

Former major league infielder Rick Short, an area scout for the D-backs, was a teammate of Tanaka with Rakuten from 2007 to ’09. Short figures to give the D-backs insight into Tanaka, and the team actually could benefit from its lack of another Japanese player.

Some elite Japanese players prefer to be the sole Japanese star on their North American clubs, major league executives say. The Yankees already have two Japanese stars, pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The Mariners have one, pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.

Then again, each Japanese star is different, and it’s risky to generalize about any one player’s intentions. Tanaka, after all, was a teammate of Iwakuma in Japan. Their past relationship could be an asset to the Mariners in the negotiations.

The D-backs, meanwhile, earlier tried to trade for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, but considered the asking price to be too high, sources said. They are reluctant to make a run at Rays left-hander David Price for the same reason, as well as Price’s rising salaries in his final two seasons before becoming a free agent.

In a perfect world, the Diamondbacks wanted to trade for a hitter and sign a pitcher. Trumbo became that hitter. And the D-backs, sources said, consider Tanaka to be superior to Garza as well as to free-agent righties Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, both of whom are attached to a draft pick.

In the end, the D-backs may lose out on Tanaka, but it won’t be because they are ill-equipped to make a strong bid. They had money for Choo. They have money for Tanaka. No one should be surprised if they turn aggressive.