As I'm sure all of you have heard by now, the Angels have sent a scout to watch Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka. While this is just a minor update and could just be precautionary, this could be exactly what the Angels need to do to right the ship and propel a playoff push in 2014 and beyond.
Tanaka is a perfect 21-0 with a 1.24 ERA, 155 K's against 27 BB's in 181 innings for the Rakuten Eagles this season. He's got a very Japanese-esque repertoire featuring a 92-94 mph fastball, according to scouts a sharp plus slider, and legitimate wipeout split fingered splitter. Although one knock on Tanaka is that his fastball is incredibly straight, something he would need to work on during his transition to the majors but the rest of his stuff plays out. He gets a lot of comparisons to Yankees ace Hiroki Kuroda but is 14 years younger and has time on his side to improve at the Big Show. So while his ceiling isn't quite up there with the Yu Darvish's of the world, he could certainly cement himself as a number 2 or 3 starter atop the Angels rotation behind Weaver and Wilson or ahead of Wilson.
Tanaka not having a Darvish type ceiling could be a good thing however seeing as he won't cost as much money as Darvish which is great for the Angels who have two aging superstars in Pujols and Hamilton, two rotation members under contract for at least 3 more years in Weaver and Wilson, and the best player in baseball in Mike Trout who is certainly going to be looking to break contract, and baseball, records for years to come. Yes paying upwards of $25 million to even talk to him about a contract is a huge risk, but Mr. Moreno certainly didn't shy away from the risks of signing Pujols and Hamilton, so why would taking a chance on Tanaka be any different? Especially when you consider the fact that Tanaka's contract would be a fraction of what either of those players are going to make and Tanaka would/could stabilize a rotation that needs a lot more help than the lineup. Which brings us to the next benefit of a potential Tanaka signing.
With a thin free agent class for starters this winter, rumors have sprouted that the Angels would look to trade any combination of Howie, Bourjos, and/or Trumbo for pitching. Well, scratch that. Tanaka going to the Angels means the Halos only giving up the one thing they can semi-give up right now and that's money. The lineup stays intact and gets boosted with a healthy Albert Pujols and less crappy Josh Hamilton, the rotation gets a boost with Tanaka, and the Angels can focus on fixing the bullpen and bench depth which is a lot less costly than signing a bat to replace a Trumbo or Kendrick. Oh, and did I mention the Angels don't have to give up yet another draft pick to sign him? Big list of benefits if you ask me. I do not think, however, that signing Tanaka would allow the Angels to re-sign Jason Vargas, shame shame I know but they could really use that money towards signing Trout long term instead of a really expensive 5th starter. Instead the Angels could get another draft pick from a declined Qualifying Offer from Vargas and continue rebuilding a barren farm system.
Finally it gives the Angels a ton of flexibility to control what else they want to do during the offseason. With the Guerrero/Dodgers negotiations apparently falling through again, a potential Zach Lee and Chris Withrow for Howie deal could still be in play giving the Angels a potential rotation of Weaver, Wilson, Tanaka, Richards, and Lee. If they feel like holding onto Howie, maybe they could trade Bourjos for a young starter and have Green help out on the bench. Maybe they hold onto Bourjos and Howie and trade Shuck for a reliever and have Calhoun on the bench. Really, Dipoto, or whoever might replace him, would have a ton of possibilities to build the rest of the pitching staff however they choose so.
Really it comes down to whether or not Tanaka is actually posted this year and how much more money Arte is willing to throw around. But another disappointing season might be able to change the latter. Tanaka could change the entire dynamic of this franchise. Get it done Arte! Masahiro Tanaka, a Trout extension, a trade for another young starter or two, and a few bullpen pieces would certainly make the Angels a team to reckon with.