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Hahn says White Sox’ futile pursuit of Tanaka ‘was worth the effort’

Updated: February 24, 2014 1:21PM



Masahiro Tanaka chose the New York Yankees, signing a whopping $155 million deal over seven years and leaving a handful of teams — including the White Sox — 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, legitimate play for Tanaka and were viewed as real contenders. They lost out against a deal that is the fifth-richest ever for a starting pitcher and with the most famous brand name in the game.

“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 a restructuring phase, having added young outfielders Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton, third baseman Matt Davidson and $68 million first baseman Jose Abreu from Cuba since the middle of last season. Abreu, 27, like Tanaka, 25, was a prized international free agent whom the Sox coveted because of talent, age and because he wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign. The Sox were willing to part with somewhere between $100 million to $120 million but were not as desperate as the Yankees to sign Tanaka.

“You had teams with great revenue sources and teams that this move was essential to their offseason plan,’’ Hahn said. “I’m not shocked that the free-market pushed it up to the level it got to. It would have been a nice addition to what we’ve already accomplished for us but it wasn’t the key part of our offseason plan. It would have been a nice thing to convert on.’’

Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and manager Robin Ventura met with the pitcher and his representatives in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf did not join them, but he fully supported the pursuit.

“We had a lot of conversations internally about what made the most sense for the organization, the risks involved and the limit we were comfortable going to,’’ Hahn said. “Jerry 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.”

Featuring a very good, sinking 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 won’t be bidding for free agent pitchers such as Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez (all are above 30), between now and the start of spring training on Feb. 15.

The starting rotation as it stands includes ace left-hander Chris Sale, lefties Jose Quintana and John Danks and right-handers Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino.

Behind Sale, Tanaka could have given the Sox a formidable 1-2 punch.

“I was hoping we would land him, obviously,’’ second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “But I know that they put in a strong bid and came up short.

“Tanaka probably wanted to go to New York anyway. It’s what it sounded like. We gave it a shot and 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.’’

Email” dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: CST_soxvan



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