When the word finally came out that Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was being posted, I was convinced he would sign with the Texas Rangers or New York Yankees, with the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox being outside possibilities.
Now if I had to make a wager, I'd say the Seattle Mariners or Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggested the Diamondbacks might be willing to trade their former closer J.J. Putz to the Yankees for Ichiro Suzuki.
Why, I wondered, would the D'backs want a 40-year-old future Hall of Famer in the twilight of a great career? Then it hit me! What better way to convince Tanaka to sign with them than to offer him the chance to play with the greatest Japanese player of all time.
But if it's not just the money, Seattle is probably an even better choice for Tanaka. The Mariners have already shown a willingness to spend by luring free agent Robinson Cano away from the bright lights of New York and they already employ one of Tanaka's best friends in baseball.
Hisashi Iwakuma has quietly emerged as a star in Seattle the last two seasons. I say quietly because he'll always be pitching in the shadow of "King Felix" Hernandez. In two years, though, he's put together a 23-11 record with a 2.84 ERA and 286 strikeouts. He made the American League all-star team last season but couldn't pitch in the mid-summer classic since he had made a start for Seattle on the Sunday, just before the Tuesday night game. He also finished third in Cy Young voting in the American League behind the Tigers' Max Scherzer and the Rangers' Yu Darvish.
Tanaka and Iwakuma were teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan from 2007 through 2011 and are reportedly good friends.
Though Iwakuma put together a 107-69 record with a 2.75 ERA in Japan, he went through his share of adversities. In 2006, pitching motion rules were put into effect that forced Iwakuma to alter his delivery. In past, Japanese hurlers had been allowed to momentarily stop in mid-delivery before throwing to the plate. This was designed to throw off a hitter's timing but now would simply be ruled a balk.
Iwakuma changed, but altering his delivery led to shoulder problems and then elbow surgery that would cost him the bulk of two seasons.
Iwakuma bounced back, though, and won the ERA title in 2008 as well as the Eiji Sawamura Award; the Major League equivalent of the Cy Young.
Even Iwakuma's move to the Majors didn't go smoothly. Oakland won the bidding rights for him prior to the 2011 season. The sides couldn't come to terms on a contract, though, and Iwakuma wound up spending one more year in Japan before finally earning free agency at age 30 and signing with Seattle.
Iwakuma will be 33 years old in April and would seem to be the perfect one to show Tanaka the ropes in the Majors.
The only complication might be Iwakuma's contract. He will be make $6.5 million with the M's in 2014 and has a club option for $7 million in 2015.
Tanaka could get close to twice that amount per season. That could be difficult for the Mariners to rationalize and explain to Iwakuma, who's already given them two very good seasons. Still, I've got a feeling Seattle will find a way to get this done.
The Tanaka negotiations must be completed by January 24 at 5:00 PM. Darvish took until the day before this deadline to sign with Texas. With spring training rapidly approaching, I can see this one getting done in the next week to ten days.
Once Tanaka has a new home, it will only serve to intensify the bidding for free agents Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and maybe even Bronson Arroyo.
The Class of 2014 inductees for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced on Wednesday at 2:00 PM. I'm sticking with the same three selections I talked about months ago; Braves pitching legends Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and White Sox two-time MVP, Frank Thomas.
I counted at least 10 other worthy Hall of Famers on this ballot, but thanks to PEDs and the sheer back-log of quality candidates, I'm convinced only the aforementioned three will get in. As for Jack Morris, who's on the ballot for the 15th and final time, I don't care what his career ERA was; any man who was the staff ace on three World Series winners ('84 Tigers, '91 Twins, '92 Blue Jays) belongs in the Hall of Fame - end of story.
Check out Morris's numbers in 1992 with the Blue Jays at age 37. 240.2 innings pitched, 21-6 record, 4.04 ERA, six complete games and one shutout. Remember, the Blue Jays had Tom Henke and Duane Ward as the 1-2 punch in the pen. The onus wasn't on Morris to pitch that many innings or that many complete games. He just did, he was that good.