Tanaka’s top suitors: Ranking the contenders

as the rich keep getting richer in the American League East, and the Blue Jays continue to handcuff their bids for top-flight free agents with a policy limiting contracts to five years. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
January 20, 2014, 11:01 AM

Barring a stunning development, the off-season’s top available pitcher will agree to a contract by Friday’s deadline. Masahiro Tanaka has five days to choose between his contract offers, and some are suggesting that the decision could take place before the end of the week.

The bidding has already started. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs already made Tanaka formal offers, according to a recent Nikkan Sports report. Those bids now put pressure on other potential suitors.

Signing Tanaka will require a franchise-altering commitment. Not only will he require a contract of perhaps $120 million, the team that signs him must also pay a $20 million release fee to his former club, Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles. Plus, agent Casey Close has enough leverage to ask for an opt-out clause that would provide his client with additional flexibility.

Here’s a closer look at the top-10 suitors for the 25-year-old ace:

Los Angeles Dodgers

Imagine Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu in one rotation. It’s no wonder baseball’s most aggressive spenders are in on the Japanese righty.

2014 payroll commitments: $214 million

Vegas odds: 11/4

Current rotation weak link: Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley

New York Yankees

While the Yankees have spent big on stars such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, they could still use a frontline starter. That’s why Tanaka has considerable appeal for the Bronx Bombers.

2014 payroll commitments: $172 million

Vegas odds: 3/2

Current rotation weak link: Michael Pineda

Chicago Cubs

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein recently called Tanaka “a valuable commodity,” while remaining coy about the team’s plans. The 25-year-old right-hander would fit in with the team’s timeline for contention, and Epstein acknowledged this fall that the Cubs wish “there was a free-agent market for young players.”

2014 payroll commitments: $66 million

Vegas odds: 7/1

Current rotation weak link: Chris Rusin

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have confirmed their interest in Tanaka, who would form an impressive top-of-the-rotation pairing with Chris Sale. Earlier this winter GM Rick Hahn spent big on another international talent, Jose Dariel Abreu.

2014 payroll commitments: $83 million

Vegas odds: 18/1

Current rotation weak link: Felipe Paulino

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels need pitching and don’t want to surrender a draft pick, which makes Tanaka a great fit. Yet GM Jerry Dipoto recently said the club didn’t meet with the longtime Rakuten Golden Eagles ace.

2014 payroll commitments: $139 million

Vegas odds: 15/1

Current rotation weak link: Tyler Skaggs

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays need rotation help and Tanaka’s the best option out there. Blue Jays decision makers like what they see, but the acquisition cost might simply be too high for an organization that shies away from commitments of more than five years.

2014 payroll commitments: $133 million

Vegas odds: 18/1

Current rotation weak link: Drew Hutchison

Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona CEO Derrick Hall says the Diamondbacks “want to win this competition,” so there’s reason to believe GM Kevin Towers has the flexibility to bid aggressively.

2014 payroll commitments: $86 million

Vegas odds: 12/1

Current rotation weak link: Randall Delgado

Seattle Mariners

After signing Robinson Cano, the Mariners are eyeing big-name pitchers, including Tanaka. But would ownership be willing to make a second high-priced addition?

2014 payroll commitments: $71 million

Vegas odds: 5/1

Current rotation weak link: Erasmo Ramirez

Boston Red Sox

While Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has acknowledged having preliminary discussions about Tanaka, the Red Sox already have enviable starting pitching depth.

2014 payroll commitments: $161 million

Vegas odds: 10/1

Current rotation weak link: Ryan Dempster

Texas Rangers

If any team has profited from spending big on Japanese pitching it’s the Rangers. Tanaka and Yu Darvish could dominate atop Texas’s rotation, but GM Jon Daniels has suggested a deal remains unlikely.

2014 payroll commitments: $124 million

Vegas odds: 15/1

Current rotation weak link: Nick Tepesch

Tanaka longshots: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros

2014 payroll commitments via Cot’s Baseball Contracts, odds via Bovada.

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