Masahiro Tanaka, David Price, and the Dodgers

MasahiroTanaka

The big news of late yesterday was that the Dodgers‘ off-season plan includes fortifying their rotation with both Masahiro Tanaka and the RaysDavid Price, according to Peter Gammons.

But, suggests several general managers, the Dodgers can avoid the loss of their number one pick and the slot money if they trade for David Price and get Masahiro Tanaka from Japan. “They have the minor league talent to get Price,” says one GM. “If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old lefthanded pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done. Then if they post $80M for Tanaka, they could have a rotation with four number ones and a number two with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Price, Tanaka and Hyun-Jin Ryu. But if they were to trade for Price, they’d need the draft pick to fill holes in their development system.”

It’s not anything concrete, but given that a lot of Dodger fans have been asking about these two anyway, it’s a good time to address them.

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Masahiro Tanaka is the ace for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan and will be 25 next year. Over the last three years, he has posted ERAs of 1.27, 1.87, and 1.27 in the NPB, even with the new livelier ball in Japan. He has excellent control — having a 1.1, 1.0, and 1.4 BB/9 the last three years — and suppresses home runs — posting 0.3, 0.2, and 0.3 HR/9 rates the past three seasons. However, his strikeout rate has fallen from 9.6 in 2011 to 8.8 in 2012 to 7.8 this year.

Prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic, he was ranked as the #1 prospect in the tournament with a #2 starter ceiling. His arsenal includes a 91-94 MPH four-seamer that touches 96, an 88-92 MPH two-seamer, an 86-89 plus-plus split, an 82-86 plus slider, and a solid 71-76 curve. Concerns include a lack of downward plane on his fastball (drop and drive mechanics), he gets hit hard when elevating the ball in strike zone, and weak Japanese lineups allow him to cruise every third inning or so. If Hyun Jin Ryu was a #4/#5 coming into 2013 with a #3 upside (that he achieved), then I would put Tanaka down as a #3 with #2 upside. He would probably go behind Ryu at #4 if he did end up with the Dodgers though.

As for the price, Tanaka is rumored to be going for a lot more than Yu Darvish, not necessarily because he’s better but more because of the influx of money to teams around the league and because of the scarcity of talent on the open market. The fee alone looks to be around $75 million, and if Darvish got a six year, $56 million contract, then the Dodgers are looking at a total investment of 5-7 years and $120-150 million.

Still, I’d like the Dodgers to go after him because he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the market and the only cost with him is money. Furthermore, the posting fee doesn’t count against the salary cap (if the ownership even cares).

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Price, as you know, is the ace for the Rays and has two years of team control remaining. He’ll be entering his age 28 season in 2014 and he’s slated to make ~$13 million in arbitration. Price is basically a sure thing in the front of the rotation, putting up ERAs/FIPs of 2.72/3.42, 3.49/3.32, 2.56/3.05, and 3.33/3.03 the past four years. Basically the only concern is that he missed six weeks with a triceps injury this year, but I don’t see it as overly worrisome. He would probably slot in at #2 on the Dodgers behind Clayton Kershaw.

Price is easily a better option than Tanaka as far as next year is concerned, so why don’t I want him?

“If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old lefthanded pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done.”

That’s why.

The price there seems a bit high, but not at all unrealistic given the haul frontline arms have fetched for a half season as of late — at least one elite prospect. Price will be under control for two seasons, so he does figure to bring a gigantic haul back if made available.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers have only started their farm system rebuild, and Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Zach Lee, and Joc Pederson are basically all of the impact prospects remaining in the system. It’s a gigantic price to pay in that context, and it’s just for the luxury of having three frontline guys in the rotation to go along with the two Asian pitchers who are knocking at that frontline starter door.

At the end of the year, I said the Dodgers were setup nicely for the future. This was primarily because the current team has been formed by paving over the mistakes of the previous years with money, but they’ve setup a nice player development team both domestically and internationally, which bodes well in the long run. However, making this trade would essentially completely restart that development process again, which figures to become increasingly important in the future due to teams being flush with cash and extending homegrown players at a growing rate, thus limiting the amount of talent that hits the free market.

For those reasons, despite the fact that Price is undoubtedly a great pitcher, I can’t see the benefit in taking the gamble of acquiring him.

About Chad Moriyama

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