Sox GM Hahn says Tanaka pursuit 'worth the effort'
Prized Japanese right-hander chooses to sign long-term deal with Yankees
CHICAGO -- The most perfect, most dramatic resolution to the White Sox pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka would have come Friday at 4 p.m. CT, which marks the official start of SoxFest '14 at the Palmer House Hilton.
That time also happened to coincide with the deadline for Tanaka, the marquee free-agent hurler of this offseason, to agree upon a deal with a Major League team or he would return to Japan. The deal included the $20 million posting fee to be paid to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka's previous team, but only would be paid by the chosen team.
If you are going to dream, you might as well dream big as the White Sox did. But reality squarely hit the White Sox and the other teams pursuing Tanaka on Wednesday in the form of the Yankees' seven-year, $155 million contract with an opt out after 2017.
Many people were surprised that the White Sox even went after Tanaka, after committing six years and $68 million to Jose Abreu at the start of the offseason and presently having a payroll in the $85 million range. But at 25 years old and without having to give up a Draft pick for his services, the talented Tanaka perfectly fit the profile of general manager Rick Hahn's ongoing reshaping process.
Hahn would not comment on the official offer made by the White Sox, although Nikkan Sports reported that they were one of five teams to make offers in at least the six-year, $100 million range. Hahn knew the financial component of a high-end player being bid on by teams such as the Yankees and the Dodgers could take them to a level they weren't comfortable going, but he also had no regrets about being part of the process.
"We view this as a situation where you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take, and it was worth the effort," Hahn said in a Wednesday evening conference call. "We saw Mr. Tanaka as a player who could complement and fit in nicely to some of the other things we've accomplished over the last several months."
Adding Tanaka would have given the White Sox a powerful one-two punch at the top of their rotation with Chris Sale, followed by Jose Quintana, John Danks and Erik Johnson. The White Sox possibly could have moved outside the box and explored a deal involving Quintana or Johnson in order to bring back another catcher.
Johnson, Andre Rienzo and Eric Surkamp, who are two other rotation candidates, come into this season with 22 combined Major League starts. Felipe Paulino, a free-agent addition who currently has the fifth-starter edge, had ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow on July 3, 2012, and Danks is now one full season removed from arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August 2012.
As strong as the rotation appears to be, there clearly are some question marks. But just because the White Sox pursued Tanaka, don't expect them to take that money offered and go after Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza or Bronson Arroyo, to name a few free agents, as starting stopgaps.
Their present goal is to win in 2014. Their primary goal is to build a base to win with for many years to come, so the White Sox aren't looking for quick fixes in the 32-35 age range and they aren't giving up Draft picks.
"Maybe we do something, maybe we don't, but we're in a much better place than we were at the start of the season last year, even though we came in with all those expectations," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, speaking after a White Sox anti-bullying program at McClellan Elementary School on Wednesday. "It's almost good for the White Sox to not have expectations."
"Certainly prior to Opening Day, I don't have the sense that we're done by any stretch or aspire to be done," said Hahn, who is looking to add pitching depth. "That said, with Chris and Jose at the front and John Danks 18 months post-op, we feel real good about what those three are going to give us. Having the competition between Erik Johnson, Felipe Paulino, Rienzo, the kid Surkamp we took off waivers from San Francisco and Charlie Leesman, we've got interesting guys with some upside that could help us."
A notion that Tanaka was set on going to one of the two coasts from the outset was disputed by Hahn. He felt good about the White Sox connection made with Tanaka coming out of a meeting in Beverly Hills, a meeting where it's fair to speculate that the excellence of pitching coach Don Cooper and head athletic trainer Herm Schneider and his staff were mentioned.
There was never a doubt the White Sox were seriously interested in signing the right-hander.
"You don't sit there and get into the nuts and bolts of it unless you are going to be serious about it," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who was part of the organization's group that met with Tanaka and his representation. "They were serious."
"We gave it a shot and I think it shows a lot of the organization of where they want to go and how they want this train to roll," Beckham said. "I was excited to hear that we were even interested because sometimes in years past we haven't been."
Making this sort of "substantial economic offer" to another player would require the availability of another player such as Tanaka, who possibly could be a long-term fill for a remaining void.
"We'll be able to dip into those resources again I believe, as was the case with Abreu, if a similar situation presents itself in terms of the ability to find a long-term solution for one of our needs," Hahn said. "As we sit here on Jan. 22, I don't necessarily see a similar opportunity on the free-agent market. Perhaps via trade down the road or into and beyond next season, a similar situation will arise and I expect us to be similarly aggressive."