Are the A’s Really in the Running for Masahiro Tanaka?

The time has finally come: MLB teams will have a 30-day window in which to reach an agreement on a contract with Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, and that window is set to begin at 8:00 a.m. EST on Thursday.

Naturally, Tanaka’s name has been connected with big-time spenders like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in recent weeks, ever since word broke that he may be interested in entering the league. One of the teams thrown into the conversation, though, has been the Oakland A’s.

Said Bill Madden of the New York Daily News:

“Watch out for Oakland…They’ve got as much money as any team and they like doing these big international things.”

The A’s, usually painted as a ‘small-market’ team with severe limitations as far as spending ability is concerned, went on a bit of a ‘binge’ in December, with G.M. Billy Beane committing $22 to free agent pitcher Scott Kazmir and absorbing Jim Johnson and his likely $10-11 million contract for the 2014 season.

What’s more, all MLB teams netted $25 million from a new league-wide television deal. The newly-acquired funds, combined with the A’s recent history of interest in international talent could be behind Madden’s assertion. After all, Oakland signed Yoenis Cespedes two winters ago, Hiroyuki Nakajima last winter, nearly came to terms with Hisashi Iwakuma before the right-hander elected to join the Seattle Mariners, and came up second in the bidding for Aroldis Chapman.

Should the A’s make a major splash and end up winning the Tanaka sweepstakes, it would come at a great cost: in addition to the $20 million posting fee required to negotiate a deal, his contract is expected to eclipse the $100 million mark by itself. His gaudy numbers – a 24-0 record, 1.97 ERA and 0.94 WHIP – put him in line for a highly lucrative deal.

The A’s may also be operating in a state of financial flexibility, considering only Cespedes and Kazmir have any guaranteed contract money owed to them after the 2014 campaign.

Should the A’s make a gigantic splash and reign in Tanaka, it’d push their already top-tier pitching staff into the stratosphere. The rotation, as it stands now, is already, full, boasting Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Kazmir, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and perhaps Drew Pomeranz. A Tanaka signing would inevitably necessitate the trade to fix the starting pitching logjam, but it’d also give the A’s one of the most dominant staffs in the league.

All this to say: whether the A’s can be considered a ‘legitimate’ threat to sign Tanaka remains to be seen, but given their history of international interest and Beane’s penchant for the dramatic, it will be very interesting to see what happens.

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