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January 7, 2014

Rumor Roundup

Which Teams Are in on Tanaka?

by Daniel Rathman

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An update on the race to sign Masahiro Tanaka
With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, the bidding for recently posted Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka should pick up as soon as this week. Interested teams have until January 24 to come to a deal with the right-hander, and most big-market clubs are expected to make a strong effort to do just that.

Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted on Friday that the Mariners “look like the favorites” in the early going, as general manager Jack Zduriencik searches for a frontline-pitcher complement to his marquee addition, Robinson Cano. The Cubs and Yankees are among the teams that are virtually certain to give the M’s a run for their money.

However, one team that previously dipped deep into the Japanese market has already bowed out. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reported Saturday that the Red Sox are passing on Tanaka, seven years after they paid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Dodgers’ interest in Tanaka was “lukewarm” last month, but Badler’s sources expect them to be “strongly in the mix.”

Finally, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal cautioned against counting out the Diamondbacks, who appear to have the financial wiggle room to be a serious player. Rosenthal wrote that general manager Kevin Towers contemplated the idea of making a seven-year, $140 million offer to Shin-Soo Choo and could reallocate those funds to Tanaka now that the outfielder has signed with the Rangers.

With fewer than three weeks left before the deadline, the bidders and the price tag should become clearer in the coming days.

Remember Tony Plush, aka Nyjer Morgan?
Three years ago, Nyjer Morgan became a fan favorite in Milwaukee with a 2.8-win effort in 429 plate appearances, good range in center field, and an alter ego to match those credentials. But after signing a one-year, $2.35 million contract to avoid arbitration, Morgan fell off a cliff, batting just .239/.302/.308, ceding his job to the rapidly improving Carlos Gomez, and falling out of favor with the front office.

Following the 2012 campaign, Morgan refused an outright assignment to Triple-A Nashville and instead inked a one-year hitch with the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan. Now, after hitting .294 and slugging 11 home runs—more than double his big-league single-season high (4)—across the Pacific, Morgan is eager to secure another shot in The Show.

The 33-year-old’s new agent, Jonathan Maurer, told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that multiple clubs have expressed interest in Morgan, viewing him as a fourth outfielder or defensive replacement who might work his way into a platoon role. Morgan bats left-handed, and he posted a .352 on-base percentage in 1,749 career plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers before heading to Japan. That platoon split tumbled with his overall numbers in 2012—when his BABIP plunged 66 points, from .362 to .296, and his strikeout rate rose from 16.3 percent to 19.6 percent—but given that Morgan has twice been worth more than two wins, he should find another major-league shot.

Crasnick did not mention any specific teams, though the Brewers could be a possibility if the organization comes around on Morgan’s antics, which contributed to the post-2012 breakup. All three of manager Ron Roenicke’s starting outfielders (Khris Davis, Gomez, and Ryan Braun, from left to right) bat right-handed, and Morgan could battle the lefty-swinging Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer for the primary backup job. If that bridge has been burned, a bargain-hunting team like the Astros could buy low on Morgan and hope that he rebuilds his value.

Rehabbing Todd Coffey to hold showcase later this month

Coming back from a second Tommy John surgery can be a grind, but 33-year-old Todd Coffey is eager to prove that he can still contribute to a major-league bullpen.

Coffey last pitched in the majors as a middle reliever for the Dodgers in 2012, when he made 23 appearances and logged a 3.65 FIP, but was dogged by a 63.9 percent strand rate and wound up with a 4.66 ERA. He went under the knife on July 18 of that year—some 12 years and two months after his first UCL replacement procedure—which was done five years prior to his big-league debut.

Now, the portly right-hander is getting ready to show scouts that his stuff is no worse for the wear—and his agent, Rick Thurman, is having no trouble lining up an audience for the exhibition. Coffey told SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo that at least 11 teams have reached out to Thurman, and once the Arizona tryout is scheduled, more than two-thirds of the league could make plans to come watch it.

As Cotillo wrote in the afore-linked post, the Dodgers’ head physician, Dr. Neal ElAttache, performed Coffey’s second Tommy John surgery and has maintained close contact with the North Carolina native during the past 18 months. That could give general manager Ned Colletti a leg up in the bidding for Coffey’s services, though the Dodgers bullpen already features four right-handed relievers with ninth-inning experience. Then again, one of those former closers, Brian Wilson, nabbed $18.5 million in guaranteed money from Colletti with fewer than 20 innings under his belt since the operation.

Coffey is not the only free agent reliever working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Ryan Madson, who has spent two full seasons on the shelf since having his on April 11, 2012, and Eric O’Flaherty, who will struggle to be ready on Opening Day after having his on May 21 of last year, are in a similar boat. All three may be forced to settle for incentive-laden minor-league deals from one of their former employers.

Dodgers near extension with Don Mattingly
Finally, some manager news.

Remember when Don Mattingly was on the hot seat, on the verge of becoming the scapegoat for the high-priced club’s disappointing first half? Well, a 42-8 surge later in the season that led to Los Angeles’ first division title since 2009 appears to have changed all of that.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted on Monday that the Dodgers are close to locking Mattingly up for the foreseeable future, a move that would save the former first baseman the stress of entering the 2014 campaign as a lame-duck skipper. The length and financial terms of the extension being discussed remain unknown.

Mattingly is set to earn $1.4 million on an option that vested when the Dodgers topped the Braves in the National League Division Series. For comparison, his counterpart in Anaheim, Mike Scioscia, is the league’s highest-paid manager, with a 2014 salary of $5 million and a contract that runs through 2018.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

5 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Lastblues

I know it's kind of apparent from Abrahams report that the Sox aren't pursuing Tanaka; but overall what sort of effect do you think the poor performance of Matsuzaka or the excellent performance of Darvish have on teams decisions to pursue Tanaka. Is his value greater because Darvish had performed so well?

Jan 07, 2014 06:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Lastblues

Also I wrote this on a haunted iPod, so please forgive the grammatical errors.

Jan 07, 2014 06:58 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I think you'd have to evaluate the player for what he is, without letting history color your opinion too much, though I think it's fair to say that NPB pitchers who have transitioned well have laid the path for more to come.

With that said, it seems unfair to label Tanaka as either Darvish 2.0 or Dice-K 2.0. From that standpoint, teams have to determine how well his particular skillset will translate to the majors and base their value almost entirely on that. There have been reports that the Cubs are as high on Tanaka as any club, so the roller-coaster experience with Matsuzaka appears irrelevant to Theo Epstein and co.

Jan 07, 2014 21:19 PM
 
comish4lif

Saw that Morgan hit 11 homers in about half a season in Japan. I'd worry that he would come back to the states swinging for the fences and being homer happy. And I don't think that's his game.

Jan 07, 2014 07:41 AM
rating: 0
 
majnun

You don't think power is his game? I think that's a fair assessment.

Jan 07, 2014 20:45 PM
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