D-backs eyeing pitchers Tanaka, Garza, Santana

A hitter secured, the Diamondbacks turned their attention Wednesday to their other stated need, starting pitching, and were linked to free agents Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Japanese League transplant Masahiro Tanaka at the winter meetings in Florida.
 
Tanaka, who went 24-0 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, is their No. 1 target, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported, although he added that Santana and Garza are also persons of interest. The Los Angeles Angels have made Garza a top priority, according to reports. 
 
Tanaka, 25, is the most interesting of the free-agent class, and he now could be the most sought-after because major league baseball and the Nippon professional baseball league agreed to a new posting system. The maximum a U.S. team can bid for a Japanese player is $20 million, and if multiple teams bid $20 million, the player can negotiate with all of them. 
 
It is a big change from the old free market system, which saw the Rangers bid $51.7 million to acquire the negotiating rights to Yu Darvish, who then signed a six-year, $56 million contract. The process will remain a bidding war, but one that more teams can engage in because of the lower ante. 
 
The D-backs are prepared to bid on Tanaka, president/CEO Derrick Hall said Monday from the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., outside Orlando. 
 
“I think there 29 teams in addition to us who would take a shot at him,” Hall said on his radio show Monday.
 
“The playing field has changed. We’ve had scouts over there watching him. When the time comes, we’re all going to post, and let’s see. You look at free-agent market with pitching. Not a lot available.”
 
Tanaka has two years remaining on his contract with Rakuten, and it is far from certain that he will be posted. Rakuten’s owners told reporters at the winter meetings that he plans to speak with Tanaka soon, with a decision to follow. 
 
The D-backs got a good look at the value of a top Japanese starter when they faced Darvish twice last season. Darvish was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 14 ⅔ innings against them after spending the first six years of his pro career with the Nippon Ham Fighters.
 
The others names out there Wednesday:
 
— Garza is 67-67 with a 3.84 ERA in eighth major league seasons with Minnesota, Tampa Bay, the Chicago Cubs and Texas, where he was a trade deadline pickup as the Rangers looked to bolster their rotation for a playoff run. Garza made $10.25 million in 2013 and was said to be seeking an extension of between $12 million and $14 million a year from the Cubs before they sent him to Texas. 
— Santana is 105-90 with a 4.19 ERA in a nine-year career, all in the American League, which skews his ERA slightly. He has won at least 11 games five times and was 9-10 with 3.24 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP last season for Kansas City. He made $13 million last year and was said to be seeking a five-year, $100 million contract, although that could be too high considering the early free-agent market moves.
 
Minnesota paid Ricky Nolasco $12.25 million a year for four years and Phil Hughes $8 million a year for three. Garza and Santana have better numbers. The D-backs would lose a draft pick if they signed Santana but not if they signed Garza. Bronson Arroyo is also a free agent, and he would not cost a draft pick.
The D-backs appear to have the resources to sign any of the free-agent pitchers. Hall reiterated this week that the D-backs are prepared to take their 2014 payroll to record limits, in part because of new revenues available to every team and in part because the D-backs can renegotiate some sponsorship deals this winter.  
 
The have about $72 million committed to 11 players already under contract and figure to need another $13 million or so for arbitration eligibles Mark Trumbo, Gerardo Parra and Brad Ziegler. With a payroll that could reach $110 million, that still gives the D-backs plenty of wiggle room.
 
The D-backs also could match up with the right team in a trade for a pitcher, inasmuch as they are deep at shortstop, Matt Davidson is blocked at third base, and they could include a starter if they got one back.