By now, you’ve probably heard which teams are the favorites to land prized Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Eagles.
The Dodgers, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Diamondbacks are hovering at the top of the list.
White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams has seen that list too, and he knows the White Sox are perceived to be somewhere near the bottom. But Williams was in the room with general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura when they recently made their pitch to Tanaka, and despite their underdog status, he believes the White Sox have a chance to sign the most coveted pitcher remaining on the free agent market.
This might come as a shock to most considering the White Sox lost 99 games last season and don’t seem to have the available funds to match the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. However, after meeting with him face-to-face and presenting their case, Williams believes they left an impression with Tanaka, who apparently isn’t chasing the almighty dollar.
“We don’t believe that money will be the biggest factor, so we’re not going to give up until someone tells us ‘no,’” Williams said Thursday to Comcast SportsNet.
Whoever Tanaka signs with, the contract is going to be huge. What the pitcher seems to be looking for mostly is, “Who’s the right fit?”
Williams said the White Sox spoke about their long, successful track record with pitchers, their young core of players who are around Tanaka’s age (25), plus their reputation around baseball, specifically with Japanese players who have thrived with the White Sox like Tadahito Iguchi and Shingo Takatsu.
Williams believes they made a connection, but he also knows the White Sox have some serious competition. One team to keep an eye on is the Mariners, who like the White Sox are coming off a last-place season, but already showed their aggressiveness this winter by signing Robinson Cano (the Sox won the Jose Abreu sweepstakes), and have one of Tanaka’s former teammates already in their starting rotation in Hisashi Iwakuma.
Don’t assume that Tanaka will jump at the chance to come to America and play for the Yankees on the biggest stage in the world. It’s not for everybody. Or for him to sign with the Dodgers where he’ll be perceived to be the missing piece to their championship puzzle. More pressure to live up to.
Judging by his meeting with the White Sox, it appears that Tanaka wants to go where he’ll feel the most comfortable and have the best chance for success.
Will it be with the White Sox? We’ll soon find out.