White Sox move on without Masahiro Tanaka
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter January 22, 2014 11:54AM
FILE - In this March 11, 2009, file photo, Japan's Masahiro Tanaka pitches to the San Francisco Giants during an exhibition baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz. The New York Yankees and Tanaka agreed on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, to a $155 million, seven-year contract. In addition to the deal with the pitcher, the Yankees must pay a $20 million fee to the Japanese team of the 25-year-old right-hander, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Updated: January 22, 2014 4:06PM
Masahiro Tanaka chose the New York Yankees, signing a whopping $155 million deal over seven years and leaving a handful of teams wondering what might have been had they added the coveted right-hander from Japan to their starting rotation for next season and beyond.
The Sox made a strong play for Tanaka and were viewed as a legitimate contender for his services, although it is not known how high their offer went. The deal is the fifth-richest ever for a starting pitcher.
‘In the end, the market took it to a level we weren’t comfortable with in terms of commitment and cost going forward,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said Wednesday.
‘’You miss 100 percent of shots you don’t take. And it was worth the effort.’’
The Sox are in something of a rebuilding phase, having added young outfielders Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton, third baseman Matt Davidson and first baseman Jose Abreu to their team since the middle of last season. Abreu, 27, like Tanaka, 25, was a prized international free agent whom the Sox coveted because of his talent, age and not costing the team a draft pick for signing him. General manager Rick Hahn, while arguably not as desperate to sign Tanaka as the Yankees — who had a shortage of starting pitching — went after Tanaka over older free agents because it fit his plan for sustained, long-term success.
The Sox in the past have been reluctant to spend big with long-range contracts on pitchers but they gave John Danks a five-year, $65 million deal and made a strong play for Tanaka. Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and manager Robin Ventura met with the pitcher and his representatives in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
“We had a lot of conversations internally about what made the most sense,’’ Hahn said, “for the organization and the risks involved and the limit we were comfortable going to. [Chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] was a big part of the conversations and signed off on the offer we made at the end. I don’t want to say there was arm-twisting, that’s not fair. He understood what the market for this player would be and why we wanted to go to the level we ultimately went to. Had we converted on our offer in the end it would have taken us to a new level for the White Sox and he fully supported it.’’
Featuring a good fastball and exceptional split-finger pitch, Tanaka, who debuted as a professional in Japan as an 18-year-old, has a career 99-35 record and 2.30 ERA in 175 games. He was 24-0 last season.
Hahn said he doesn’t expect to tap into the top tier of free agent pitchers out there (Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez are all above 30), between now and the start of spring training on Feb. 15. The starting rotation as it stands now looks like left-handers Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Danks and right-handers Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Andre Rienzo could also be in the mix.
“Pitching is what wins in this game,’’ Hahn said Tuesday. “You can never have enough top-caliber pitching.’’
“I was hoping we would land him, obviously,’’ Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “But I know that they put in a strong bid and came up short. I think Tanaka probably wanted to go to New York anyway. It’s what it sounded like. We gave it a shot and I think it shows a lot of the organization of where they want to go and how they want this train to roll. I was excited to hear that we were even interested because sometimes in years past we haven’t been.’’