COMMENTARY | Having advanced to the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox are now just one step from playing in the 2013 World Series.
Although the focus is on winning its third championship in the past decade, the team is always operating with an eye to the future.
During the upcoming offseason, Boston may consider bolstering its roster through trade or free agency. One player the Red Sox should strongly consider is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who just completed a perfect 2013 season.
Pitching for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Sendai, the 24-year-old right-hander went 24-0 with a 1.24 ERA, according to NESN.com's Owen Ziegler.
His combined ERA is a microscopic 1.44 in 580.1 innings over the past three seasons. During his seven-year career, he has an impressive record of 95-37 with a 2.32 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
Tanaka has won 28 consecutive decisions dating back to 2012. He told The Japan News he attributes his success to always focusing on competing. "I don't go out there thinking, 'I can't lose,' because to think like that is going to subtract from what I'm doing," he said. "The only thing on my mind is what I have to do to get a win."
On paper, the Red Sox appear to already be set with their starting rotation in 2014. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront are all bound to the team for next year. However, none are a true ace, so Boston should explore an intriguing pitcher like Tanaka.
The Red Sox have signed pitchers from Japan in the past with mixed success.
Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was signed to a six-year, $52 million contract in 2007. His salary was nearly matched by the additional $51.11 million posting fee the team had to pay just to negotiate with him.
He went on to win 50 games and post an ERA of 4.52 in six seasons in Boston, while battling injuries and inconsistency.
The Red Sox also signed Junichi Tazawa to a modest three-year, $3.3 million deal in 2008. While he never panned out as a starter, he has become an integral part of the current team's bullpen.
Additionally, current closer Koji Uehara, who had 21 saves and a sparkling 1.09 ERA this season, is a product of Japan. However, he originally came to the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles.
The best recent example of a team striking gold with a Japanese pitcher is the Texas Rangers signing Yu Darvish prior to the 2012 season. The 27-year-old right-hander has already rung up 29 wins, 498 strikeouts and serious Cy Young consideration during his first two years in Arlington.
Tanaka might be even better, according to what an unnamed scout told the New York Post's George A. King III. "He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower," the scout said. "Overall, Darvish's stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. … He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it's fastball and splitter."
Tanaka will turn 25 in November. According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, he "throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph…"
"Tanaka has two secondary pitches that have earned grades of 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, including a 70 splitter with late downward action to keep hitters off his fastball. His low- to mid-80s slider is another plus weapon, while he'll mix in a curve ball as well."
King also reported Tanaka will be eligible for the posting process after November 1. Based on what he has heard, he believes the winning bid to earn the exclusive rights to negotiate with the standout pitcher could reach $60 million. From there, a final price on a contract is anyone's guess.
Because of the disheveled nature of their pitching staff, King asserts that the New York Yankees will be strong players in the sweepstakes. That alone should be enough to get Boston interested, as the two teams have gone head-to-head before over free agents. This has been as much about its own interest in the players as it has been about keeping them away from the other team.
As a team expected to annually contend, the Red Sox must always explore the potential fits of available players. Pitching prospects like Tanaka don't come along every day, so expect him to be a prime target of the team once the offseason begins.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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