Friday, December 27, 2013

Could Kawasaki Be the Key to Signing Tanaka?


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Editor's note: three-quarters of the way through writing this article, I completely changed my mind, essentially rendering most of it contradictory. But please read through anyway to see when the holiday eggnog wore off.

Masahiro Tanaka will pitch in Major League Baseball in 2014; that is no longer speculation, that is a fact. The Rakuten Golden Eagles have posted the Japanese right-hander and negotiations will likely reach a feverish pace in the coming weeks.

Many teams are poised to make a bid, one of them perhaps being the Toronto Blue Jays.

Alex Anthopoulos has neither confirmed nor denied whether the Blue Jays are interested, but as a team starved for starting pitching, it behooves them to at least inquire into Masahiro Tanaka's services.

Unlike the Yu Darvish sweepstakes a few years ago, the Blue Jays aren't the odds-on favourites to land the Japanese phenom. This time around, expectations are much more tempered in Toronto when it comes to the Tanaka posting.

Now that the negotiating window for Masahiro Tanaka is open, any team willing to shell out the $20 million dollar posting fee can proceed with negotiations. And interestingly enough, the Toronto Blue Jays could be using another player in their negotiation tactics.

Could Munenori Kawasaki very well be the key to signing Masahiro Tanaka?

Back in late September, the Globe and Mail's Tom Maloney speculated the Blue Jays may potentially look to use Munenori Kawasaki as a bargaining chip in luring Masahiro Tanaka to sign with the Blue Jays:
"The Jays have an option on popular infielder Munenori Kawasaki’s services. The first step toward attaining Tanaka is purely financial; thereafter, Kawasaki could be useful as a club ambassador in their negotiations with Tanaka."
At the time, I remember reading this and thinking nothing could be further from the truth. Not only was it a stretch that the Blue Jays would pick up Kawasaki's $1 million dollar option, but it was even more unlikely that one Japanese player would sway another to sign with the same team.

But the past few weeks have presented a unique set of circumstances that might prove otherwise. Since the Blue Jays have inked Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league deal for 2014, combined with the recent changes to the posting system, perhaps there is some merit to Munenori Kawasaki swaying Masahiro Tanaka to sign with the Blue Jays.

Kawasaki really could be an ambassador for the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and the best selling tool the Toronto Blue Jays may have. After all, any team willing to pony up the $20 million dollar posting fee is automatically in the running.

In that respect, the Blue Jays could offer Tanaka the familiarity of having another Japanese player on the roster. Now, there's no guarantee that Kawasaki would even make the big league roster, but it's certainly conceivable he could break camp as a bench player.

To me, the timing of the Munenori Kawasaki minor league deal also seemed very suspicious; it coincided just two days prior to Masahiro Tanaka officially being posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

By all indications, Munenori Kawasaki wasn't coming back with the Blue Jays next season anyway. They declined his $1 million dollar option, and rumours were that Kawasaki was heading back to Japan to play for his homeland one again.

Then the Blue Jays announce out of nowhere on Christmas Eve that Kawasaki was coming back on a minor league deal next season with an invite to Spring Training.

Maybe it was a good will gesture by the Blue Jays to sway Masahiro Tanaka to come to Toronto? Or perhaps it was just a coincidence. But something seems kind of fishy to me.

As crazy as it sounds, Kawasaki could provide some semblance of an edge for the Toronto Blue Jays in negotiations with Masahiro Tanaka. His signing is not contingent on keeping Munenori Kawasaki on the roster, but Kawasaki could help bridge the gap.

When going up against the limitless pocketbooks of the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, or perennial contenders like the St. Louis Cardinals or Texas Rangers, the Toronto Blue Jays need any edge they can get.

And if it comes in the form of Munenori Kawasaki, then so be it.

Editor's note: this is when I finally woke up and realized just how crazy it is to think Munenori Kawasaki could somehow lure Masahiro Tanaka to come to the Blue Jays.

Actually, come to think of it ... the Blue Jays are hardly in a unique position; the Yankees have two Japanese players (Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro), the Red Sox have a pair (Koji Uehra, Junichi Tazawa), and the Dodgers, Royals, Rangers, Mariners and Cubs also have a Japanese player on their roster.

Also, it's pretty presumptuous to assume one Japanese player would be enough to persuade another to sign a sizable contract with the same team. And very rarely in baseball does one contract signing ever predicate another.

The only instance I can think of is Dave Winfield signing with the Blue Jays on the heels of Jack Morris doing the same. Winfield did so partially on the grounds that Jack Morris inked a free agent deal with the Blue Jays just one day prior. 

And that particular scenario is completely different than that of Masahiro Tanaka. Dave Winfield considered the Blue Jays because another elite player thought he could win a World Series in Toronto.

The Blue Jays signing Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league deal isn't exactly banging down the doors to bring in any elite free agents this time around .. nor should it.

So if the Blue Jays are planning on using Munenori Kawasaki as a Japanese ambassador to Masahiro Tanaka, there are seven other teams out there who could very well do the same.

And is it really conceivable Masahiro Tanaka would potentially turn down millions of dollars somewhere else just to play with a guy that he played against in Japan? It's not like he and Kawasaki were even teammates ... if anything, they may just be acquaintances.

Well ... there goes that idea.

I guess Munenori Kawasaki isn't the key to signing Masahiro Tanaka after all. Maybe sending Tanaka a fruit basket would be a better idea instead?

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