Are the Tanaka Sweepstakes Stalling the Twins' Offseason?

Koji Watanabe

After a flurry of activity to start the offseason, the Twins have gone silent lately, though they still have interest in multiple free agent pitchers. Is the allure of Masahiro Tanaka to blame, or is the Twins' interest much ado about nothing?

Much to our surprise, the Twins kicked off this offseason with a much bigger impact than we have learned to expect when they quickly signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Then these were followed by the re-signing of Mike Pelfrey and the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki.

However, the offseason activity has slowed to a crawl over the past few weeks. With the exception of trading Ryan Doumit to Atlanta, the Twins have not been doing very much of anything lately, though I think that's also because we weren't expecting five major moves to occur before the offseason was even half over.

Now, this doesn't mean that they've been completely quiet. Supposedly they have kept tabs on Bronson Arroyo the entire offseason and they've repeatedly been tied to Matt Garza as well. Plus, the biggest surprise has been that the Twins have shown interest in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka.

A big reason for this was the change in the posting system that occurred recently. In prior years, the posting system required that all interested teams would blindly submit a bid, and the winning bid would give that respective team exclusive negotiating rights with the player. Now, MLB and NPB have agreed upon a $20 million maximum bid, and if any teams tie for the winning bid, then those teams would compete with each other to sign the available player.

With this $20 million limit, the floodgates have opened for teams that typically were not in the running for Japanese free agents. In the past, we saw Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish command bids of over $50 million, but the $20 million, along with about $25 million in TV revenue money going to teams this year, is giving small market teams like the Twins a chance to sign Tanaka.

Since there are so many teams potentially in the running for Tanaka, we've seen free agent pitchers Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and the aforementioned Garza and Arroyo fail to find a home. Granted, this could be due to them having absurd contract demands or the fact that a few of them are tied to their new team losing a draft pick, but it's clear that some teams are looking at Tanaka as the prize of the offseason, with the other four starters being the consolation prizes once Tanaka has signed.

Therefore, it's possible that the Twins are one of these teams. Being tied to Arroyo and Garza with no contract offers to show for it could be a sign that the Twins are simply biding their time until the Tanaka deadline on January 24th. That is when all the teams with the (expected) $20 million bids will be allowed to compete for Tanaka's services, with the Twins potentially being included.

So, are the Twins seriously interested in Tanaka and he is the only roadblock between them having an all-free agent-signed rotation, something that was unfathomable as recently as this past season? Or are they just blowing smoke as we've come to know, saying that they're interested but not truly committing until the player's demands come down?

For me, I'm leaning more towards the latter, because their early moves this offseason were so out of character that I'm still not convinced they will continue to go the free agency route. I get the feeling that the Twins are simply exploring the idea of signing Tanaka, feeling out what his demands will be, and then will inevitably bow out as the large-market teams drive up his price. Similarly, I don't see Arroyo or Garza coming here unless they take a significant pay cut, something they shouldn't need to do, especially when the losers of signing Tanaka panic and start looking elsewhere for a new starter in their rotation.

How about you? Are the Twins serious about Tanaka? Once he is signed, will the Twins front office get into gear once more, or are they just displaying mild interest?

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