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Masahiro Tanaka derby: Reading the tea leaves

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka celebrates after defeating

Rakuten Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka celebrates after defeating the Yomiuri Giants in Game 7 of the Japan Series in Sendai, northeastern Japan. (Nov. 3, 2013) (Credit: AP/Kyodo News)

Here’s what we officially know about the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes: Very little.

Five teams have reportedly submitted formal offers for the highly-coveted Japanese righthander. The Yankees and Dodgers are viewed as the front runners in that group with the Cubs, Diamondbacks and White Sox bringing up the rear (likely in that order).

Now let’s get into the tea leaf reading:

(1) Living near a large Japanese community is apparently important to Tanaka (or at least his wife) according to multiple reports.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, New York City tops the list of the ten places with the largest number of Asians, coming in at 1,134,919. Los Angeles is second with 483,585 and Chicago is seventh with 166,770. No city in Arizona makes the list.

Seattle, by the way, is 11th with 100,727. That’s important because the Mariners are viewed as a potential dark horse candidate to land Tanaka.

(2) Some have speculated that Tanaka may want to go to a team where he would be the lone Japanese star.

The Yankees currently have starter Hiroki Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (who could be traded) on the roster. Reliever Kyuji Fujikawa is on the Cubs’ roster, though it’s difficult to see him challenging for serious attention.

The White Sox, Diamondbacks and Dodgers don’t have any Japanese players on their 40-man roster (LA’s Hyun-Jin Ryu is Korean).

(3) If Tanaka immediately wants to be the ace of the staff, the Cubs provide him the best opportunity. Jeff Samardzija is a terrific pitcher, however, he’s yet to make the trek into elite territory. The rest of the rotation is relatively unproven or uneven.

The Diamondbacks have a collection of capable to very good starters, though no one jumps out as a no-doubt No. 1. Instead, their starting staff is a nice group of No. 2 and No. 3 starters.

The Yankees have an ace, technically, in that CC Sabathia is signed for a lot of money and has a fantastic resume. But he hasn’t performed like an ace on the mound recently.

The White Sox have Cy Young contender Chris Sale and the Dodgers feature both National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

(4) If Tanaka wants to win right away, the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Dodgers can offer him varying possibilities of instant gratification.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks have very talented rosters, however, they compete in difficult divisions. The Dodgers project (at least during the regular season) as a juggernaut and will likely beat out Arizona for the NL West.

Both Chicago squads are in rebuilding mode, however, both feature plenty of near-MLB-ready talent that could begin making an impact in a year or two.

Tanaka is just 25 and figures to sign at least a six-year deal, so wherever he goes, he can afford to wait (at least a little) for the opportunity at a World Series ring.

(5) We should see a resolution to this saga within the next day or two.

Tanaka’s official posting period ends on Friday, however, the winning team is likely to be named at least a day or two in advance. Why? Because all aspects of the contractual process (i.e. physicals, etc…) must be completed by the end of the posting process.

Tags: Masahiro Tanaka

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