I don’t think anyone considers the Detroit Tigers any sort of favorite to land Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka this offseason – we’ve actually seen very little linking the two – but Ben Badler of Baseball America sees the Tigers as a potential dark horse candidate in the bidding.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have spent their offseason moving money off the books. When they traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, they cleared roughly $76 million in salary commitments. The Doug Fister trade to the Nationals was puzzling, but it wiped his last two arbitration years off their ledger, with MLB Trade Rumors pegging him for a $7 million salary next season. That’s at least $83 million in savings.
That puts the Tigers in prime position to land Tanaka, with flexible options for doing so. A starting rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Tanaka, Sanchez and Rick Porcello would be the best in baseball. The Tigers could also sign Tanaka and make a trade, with Scherzer, who turns 30 in July, a prime trade candidate
This is very similar to the idea that MCB’s own Chris Hannum put forth earlier in the week. Instead of simply dumping all of the organizations excess funds into Max Scherzer, might it benefit them to trade Scherzer for a prospect package and spend a lesser amount of money on Tanaka?
It’s less of a sure thing – as if any pitcher could be a ‘sure thing’ over the long haul – but Max Scherzer would command a hefty commitment to stay on board which could put the Tigers in a long-term financial bind. It’s not that Tanaka wouldn’t also similarly strain the budget, but flipping Scherzer could net the team some much needed young (read: cheap) talent to help offset the cost in future years.
It’s all going to depend on the final price for Tanaka. The Tigers don’t appear to be tripping over themselves to spend more money this winter, but Mike Ilitch certainly has a reputation for being willing to open the wallet at the last second to snag a top-tier talent.
At this point, though, I just don’t see the Tigers as being willing to invest $140-$150 million in a single player. It appears much more likely that the young Japanese ace ends up with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, or Seattle Mariners (the top four most likely destinations that Badler lists).