Red Sox Unlikely to Join Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes, But Pitcher’s Posting Still Impacts Boston

Masahiro TanakaMasahiro Tanaka probably won’t grow a beard in Boston any time soon. But his arrival in Major League Baseball could create a hairy situation for the Red Sox.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles have decided to post Tanaka, meaning the pitcher is free to sign with any MLB team this offseason. The Red Sox, theoretically, could make a push for Tanaka, but it’s likely that they will stay on the sidelines and feel the impact of the pitcher’s arrival from a distance.

Tanaka’s arrival is good news for Major League Baseball, as it’s adding a solid, young, globally marketable pitcher to its talent pool. The Red Sox would have been better off with Tanaka staying in Japan, though, especially since the New York Yankees are viewed as the front-runners to land the 25-year-old. Signing Tanaka would improve the Yankees’ biggest area of weakness and make the American League East that much more dangerous in 2014. The Red Sox’ offense already has been dealt a blow by losing Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees, and the prospect of facing Tanaka multiple times throughout the season certainly isn’t appealing, even if it’s not the most horrifying thing ever.

Tanaka doesn’t need to don pinstripes for the Red Sox to be impacted. The current posting process itself will influence the remainder of Boston’s offseason, although the magnitude of the impact largely depends on the Red Sox’ overall plans.

The Red Sox have a surplus of starting pitching. As it stands, they have six viable starters — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster — and that’s not including their up-and-coming youngsters, like Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton. General manager Ben Cherington, who recently admitted that he has received several calls about starters, could look to deal from the Red Sox’ area of depth, but any potential trades involving starting pitchers likely will be delayed while the Tanaka market takes shape.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox won’t trade a pitcher while Tanaka remains a free agent — although Cherington has yet to indicate a desire to strike a deal — but it’s reasonable to believe the GM will hang onto all of his starters for at least the next 30 days in order to maximize his potential return. There could be considerable interest in the Red Sox’ starting pitchers if Cherington makes them available, but that interest won’t reach peak levels until Tanaka is off the market.

Even when Tanaka signs, the market for starting pitching already will have been affected. The teams that come up short in their push for Tanaka might zero in on a Boston starter or opt for one of the other available free-agent starters, like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Bronson Arroyo. However, the demand for those pitchers would have been much higher in a market sans Tanaka. After all, there presumably will be one less suitor (whichever team signs Tanaka), and the likes of Jimenez, Garza, Santana and Arroyo — as well as the Red Sox’ sextet of starters — look a lot more attractive when they’re not stacked up against a 25-year-old potential ace who can be acquired without his signing team relinquishing any non-monetary assets.

Perhaps Tanaka will sign with a National League club and the Red Sox will enter spring training with all six of their major-league starters in tow, at which point the ramifications of the pitcher’s arrival will appear minimal in Boston. But in the immediate aftermath of Tanaka being posted by his Japanese club, it’s easy to see that the Red Sox — unless they shockingly become involved in the sweepstakes — were dealt a blow this week, albeit a minor one.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

Photo via Facebook/Masahiro Tanaka

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