By Shannon Drayer
Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and enjoyed flipping the calendar and being that much closer to baseball. I did, and not without a twinge of panic. We are getting closer to baseball and there is still work to be done. Lots of work.
I did get a good chuckle this morning when I saw that my Twitter feed was littered with “The Mariners are the favorites to land Masahiro Tanaka” type links. Well it has been a good two weeks since the Mariners were front and center on the national baseball stage so I guess it was time. With most in baseball media being off the last week and a half I could see them sitting down at their laptops, dusting them off, taking a sip of coffee and thinking, “Now what am I going to write today? I know – Mariners!”
Is this another in the long line of attention-grabbing headlines – Mariners must trade Felix Hernandez, Mariners must trade Felix Hernandez to the Yankees, Mariners must trade everyone, Mariners must spend money, Mariners have money to spend, Mariners must spend more money – or is there something to it?
It could be various officials from other clubs and writers doing the math and deciding the Mariners still have money to spend. Really, this isn’t news at all and isn’t framed that way. It makes sense that the Mariners would be in on Tanaka, the 25-year-old star Japanese pitcher, and if they have enough money to spend then they would be near the top of list of favorites with other clubs that could afford him.
Do the Mariners have an edge or an in? I think far too much is being made of any advantage they might have in convincing Tanaka to chose the Mariners over other clubs because of their history with Japanese players or a connection to Japan via their ownership. Every individual is different and every individual has different priorities. Location had a good amount to do with Kenji Johjima and Hisashi Iwakuma deciding to sign with the Mariners. The comfort level of living in Seattle was important to both of them but it might not be so much with Tanaka. Yu Darvish has done well in Texas. Daisuke Matsuzaka was quite comfortable in Boston. Hideki Matsui loved New York.
Does he want the spotlight or would he rather have the opportunity to escape a small portion of it? It will not be completely avoidable. He will travel with his own spotlight as we have seen with other Japanese players. Does he want more? Does he want to see his name in lights on Broadway or in Hollywood? Or would he like the chance to go about the non-baseball portion of his day with a relative level of anonymity or at least the locals keeping a respectful distance? I have heard both. He wants the spotlight or he prefers the West coast and could see Seattle as a good fit. We simply do not know at this point.
What we do know from past experience is that Tanaka would be a good fit for the Mariners. Japanese superstars work well for the Mariners as an organization. There is plenty of room for Japanese advertising at Safeco Field and they would welcome droves of tourists from Japan like they did in the past for Ichiro. While international television rights fees and merchandising revenues go to MLB with portions distributed to all 30 clubs, there is still money to be made. The template is there.
The contract likely needed to land Tanaka would mean the Mariners would have roughly $70 million invested in three players, a very disproportionate amount relative to their payroll. If the money is there, then I would believe that the biggest hurdle for the Mariners to overcome would be the spotlight factor. Tanaka is a big deal in Japan. He just won the equivalent of the World Series there. He has done just about everything he can do in Japanese baseball and now he wants to do more.
Perhaps the Mariners sell themselves to him in a similar fashion to what they did with Robinson Cano: In New York you will be one of many legends who have taken the team to the World Series. In Seattle you could be the first. You could finish what Ichiro started when he came to the United State in 2001 and picked up MVP and Rookie of the Year honors while helping the Mariners to a record 116 wins. You could do so alongside fellow countryman Hisashi Iwakuma. Nevermind the spotlight. You could be a part of history.
It is going to be an interesting month. The Mariners will continue to come up and if they fail to land Tanaka they no doubt will be linked to the remainder of pitchers still left on the market. No break for the hot stove this winter.
• The Mariners have signed OF Cole Gillespie, RHP Matt Palmer and RHP Ramon Ramirez to minor-league contracts with invites to spring training.
• It’s that time of year again. The Mariners Caravan is set to get rolling next Tuesday with the first stops in Pierce County at Lake Tapps and Gig Harbor. Scheduled to appear in Week 1 are Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Dave Sims and, of course, the Mariners Moose. Others scheduled to appear later on the three-week tour include Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, James Paxton, Michael Saunders, Mike Blowers and Rick Rizzs. A schedule of public appearances for the Caravan can be found here.
• Happy Birthday to Edgar Martinez, who turns 51 years old Thursday. Thanks, Gar, for making us all feel older!
• The market for Kendrys Morales may be heating up with reports of the Orioles and possibly the Royals being interested. If Morales signs elsewhere, the Mariners will get a compensatory pick which they would have to give up because of the Cano signing.
• According to reports, Erasmo Ramirez has been named Nicaraguan athlete of the year for 2013. Ramirez has been pitching in Venezuela since mid-November and despite getting rocked in his last outing (allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings) he has gone 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in six starts.
• Something to think about and possibly discuss: If the Mariners were to land Tanaka, how willing would you be to part with Taijaun Walker for a bat?