It would be pretty easy to assume that, after their acquisition of Doug Fister earlier this week, the Washington Nationals are probably finished in their search for starting pitching. Washington does still need to improve their bullpen with a lefty reliever or two, and that market has been thinning out quickly as a lot of players are signing earlier than normal. With the Winter Meetings next week, it seems as though there may not be much movement during a four-day span that is usually chock full of deals.
That could all change as multiple reports have surfaced that Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball have agreed on a new posting system, something that many thought may not happen. This new posting system includes a maximum bid of $20 million, and only the team signing the Japanese player would be required to pay that fee to the Japanese team that posted their player. If multiple teams submit this max bid they would all have the right to negotiate with the player. This is a huge difference from the old system where the negotiating rights went to the highest bidder and did not allow smaller market teams to make a respectable bid.
This new system should change that drastically as many believed that under the old system, a team like the New York Yankees would be a major player for this year’s big Japanese name, 26 year old Masahiro Tanaka. With their fear of having to pay the luxury tax and their self-imposed $189 million salary cap, a huge fee that did not effect their luxury tax status for a player they would most like dole out $60-$70 million over five or six years would be perfect for them. That is no longer the case now as many other teams will have the ability to bid for Tanaka’s services, and one team that should be a major player is the Nationals.
First off, a $20 million bid should be chump change for the Nationals’ ownership who have very deep pockets and have allowed GM Mike Rizzo to inflate the team’s payroll year after year. If Rizzo believes that Tanaka would be a fruitful pursuit, then the Lerner family will certainly open their checkbooks. Secondly, how many other teams can pitch these names in their rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister? Tanaka, presumably, would plug into the team’s fifth starter spot, which could work out really nicely as we have seen Japanese pitchers, for the most part, struggle when they come to the states. Tanaka would be presumed as the best fifth starter in baseball, but he would also be overshadowed by the other big names in Washington’s rotation.
Now obviously Washington has the likes of Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan as candidates for the back end of their rotation so they do not need Tanaka at all costs. But with Detwiler having a questionable back and Roark and Jordan still being young, they could be seen as depth in the event Tanaka does not work out or gets hurt. This could also work in Washington’s favor since they go into negotiations with much more leverage than any other team competing for Tanaka’s services. They would presumably have the best rotational top four of any team that would bid on Tanaka and could end up being the most attractive with the stars on the offensive side.
The Nationals do not desperately need Tanaka, and that could work out really well for them. They already have the most exciting rotation on paper, and with the likes of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, they could be a major player in the Tanaka sweepstakes since the price of doing business just dropped.