For starters, yes, I will take full responsibility that I was happy, maybe actually overjoyed, that the Astros did not commit to seven years and $130 million for Shin-Soo Choo. Not that I didn’t think he would be a worthy addition, but I just wasn’t sure it was the right move to give that much money to a 31-year old outfielder who had never made an All-Star team. The fact that Houston is, at a minimum, two years away from playoff contention is also another factor.
Conversely, I think that the Houston Astros should at least be involved in the discussions for Masahiro Tanaka. For starters, Tanaka is six years younger than Choo. Also, he is a potential difference maker and ace at the top of the rotation.
Tanaka’s performance in Japan stands on its own merits, and cannot be disputed. Yes the competition level across the Pacific cannot be fully compared to that of the major leagues, but Tanaka’s dominance is transcendent.
Starting pitchers of this caliber, and age (25), are very rarely ever available on the free market. Tanaka’s workload has been excessive at times,and there is an adjustment period to the major leagues, but his stuff and talent is so good that he should have no problem continuing his dominance stateside.
The problem for the Astros, is that all of these factors are combining to make the bidding war and negotiations for Tanaka’s services quite extensive and evolved. It is never a good sign when the biggest spenders and largest markets are involved in the rumors.
Several major league teams argued that under the system established in 1998, only the richest franchises could afford to bid on the right to sign star Japanese players still under club control. The new system levels the process — and also means the player could get a contract around $100 million.
The New York Yankees are among several teams in need of top-line starting pitching. Newsday, citing an industry source, reported Thursday that the Yankees already have been in contact with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close.
As the Astros proved with the Jose Abreu negotiations and also with the Choo rumors, I think they will be involved at least to some degree. Of course I would be in favor of signing Tanaka as he would immediately give the Astros a dominant presence at the top of the rotation.
However, Houston does have a plethora of pitching prospects, so the need is not too pressing. But they are also still question marks to some degree and a few years away, while Tanaka is a proven commodity. Adding a veteran starter also frees up some of those young hurlers as trade chips which could help fill multiple needs.
The problem though, is that I think the price for Tanaka will ultimately be outlandish and the Astros will never truly be serious contenders.