Will The Nationals Make A Play For Masahiro Tanaka?

Koji Watanabe

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that Doug Fister would be the last major pitcher the team acquired this winter after the trade that brought the right-hander to D.C. from the Detroit Tigers. But is Masahiro Tanaka a unique enough talent for the Nats to consider getting involved?

As of 8:00 AM EST this morning (12/26), a 30-day negotiating window began for any of the 30 MLB teams interested in adding 25-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka after the Rakuten Golden Eagles made the decision to post the pitcher Wednesday night. That negotiating period ends on January 24 at 5:00 PM EST. If no team has signed Tanaka by that point he will return for what would be his eighth season with Rakuten.

"As we've always said, we're open to acquire talent in any way, shape or form that we can, and if it's international talent, we're certainly willing to acquire international players." - Mike Rizzo in Oct. 2011

The 6'2'', 205 lb starter is coming off a 2013 campaign in Japan which saw him go (24-0) with eight complete games, one shutout, 32 walks (1.36 BB/9) and 183 Ks (7.77 K/9) in 28 games, 27 starts and 212 IP over which he had a 1.27 ERA, finishing with an ERA under 2.00 for the third straight season.

Over his seven seasons with the Golden Eagles, starting in 2007 when he debuted as an 18-year-old, Tanaka is  (99-35) with a 2.30 ERA, 275 walks (1.88 BB/9) and 1,238 Ks (8.47 K/9) in 1,315 IP. He's expected to get in excess of $100M on the market this winter, and whichever team signs Tanaka will have to pay Rakuten a $20M posting fee under the new agreement reached earlier this month between Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.

Will the Washington Nationals get involved?

FBB Archives: On The Nationals And Masahiro Tanaka

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported earlier this winter that an unnamed official within the organization told him the Nationals, "...have scouted Tanaka in Japan on multiple occasions throughout his career... including late this season," but after the Nats' acquisition of now-former-Detroit Tigers' starter Doug Fister earlier this winter, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, including the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore, that Fister, "...will be the last significant starting pitcher the Nationals add."

The trade for Fister gives the Nationals a top four of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Fister with pitchers like Ross Detwiler, Ross Ohlendorf, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark expected to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring. Signing Tanaka, of course, would give the Nationals one of, if not the strongest rotations in the majors. It would allow them to use Detwiler as a left-hander out of the pen and give them two tough lefty relievers along with recently-acquired Jerry Blevins.

No one is really discussing Washington as a possible destination for Tanaka though.

Under the new system agreed to by NPB and MLB, there doesn't have to be a formal bid, so you may never know if the Nats even inquired on any interest on Tanaka's part in pitching in the nation's capital. The Nationals didn't bid on the last big pitcher to come out of Japan though they said they did scout Yu Darvish, who eventually signed a 6-year/$56M deal with Texas after the Rangers, under the old system, bid $51.7M+ for the exclusive right to negotiate a deal with the pitcher. The Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, Braves and Diamondbacks have been mentioned often as the teams expected to be serious suitors for Tanaka's services. Tanaka has reportedly hired Casey Close of Excel Sports Management, who also represents LA Dodgers' starters Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, as his own agent.

When it's only a matter of dollars, why wouldn't the Nationals get involved? Will potential future long-term deals for the likes of Zimmermann, Strasburg, Desmond and Bryce Harper be a factor? Should they be?

Will the Nats make a play for Tanaka?

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