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How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Land Masahiro Tanaka, Even After Extending Clayton Kershaw

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How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Land Masahiro Tanaka, Even After Extending Clayton Kershaw

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Masahiro Tanaka is the best free agent starter available this winter.
COMMENTARY | Wednesday was a great day for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They signed Clayton Kershaw to the biggest deal a pitcher has ever received -- seven years, $215 million.

Despite being prepared to spend $30-plus million per year on Kershaw, the team can still find a way to bring in Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka.

These aren't your Frank McCourt Dodgers.

Tanaka, 25, has to sign with a team by 2 p.m. Pacific time on Jan. 24, or he has to return to Japan for another year. A deal will get done, and the Dodgers are reportedly one of the two favorites. The New York Yankees are the Dodgers' biggest competition, with the Chicago Cubs lurking. It'd be a shock if Tanaka got anything shorter than a five- or six-year deal at $17-20 million per season.

The Dodgers are going to have a payroll upward of $250 million in 2014. Fans of every other team are going to complain (and I'm sure some will show up in the comments section), but that's baseball in the 21st century.

Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley and Dan Haren could all be off the books after 2014. Beckett is due $15.75 million, Billingsley is due $12 million this year with a $3 million buyout for 2015, and Haren is due $10 million.

Beckett is healthier than Billingsley, but he'll likely still have to prove himself if he's either going to pitch in LA or for another club. The Dodgers won't likely be on the hook for all his salary in 2014.

Billingsley is an interesting case. He's coming off Tommy John surgery and is anything but a lock to have his $15 million option picked up for 2015. If he comes back and throws well, the Dodgers could pick it up and try to trade the right-hander. That would save money.

Haren isn't the Haren of old, but he's still a solid pitcher. If he doesn't reach 180 innings pitched in 2014, his option for 2015 wouldn't vest. So, the Dodgers could save almost $35 million just among those three pitchers.

The Dodgers could save $4 more million after the season, as Chris Perez and Jamey Wright's contracts expire. They'll also save nearly $4 million by not having to pay the deferred contract of Andruw Jones anymore.

Hanley Ramirez's $16 million would also be off the payroll. However, it'll likely be replaced with a $20-plus million contract.

In two years, guys like Brandon League, Juan Uribe, Brian Wilson could provide another $30-35 million in savings. And those guys would be replaced by cheaper, internal options like Yimi Garcia, Corey Seager and Onelki Garcia.

Yes, the Dodgers probably have a money-printing machine on the premises, but it doesn't mean they're going to spend $500 million on players. The fact they have these contracts coming off the books leaves plenty of room for Tanaka and his significant salary.

They're probably going to stay in the $200-plus million salary range for the foreseeable future. If they can lock up Tanaka and have a rotation of Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanaka, with a young guy like Zach Lee, Ross Stripling or Chris Anderson manning the No. 5 spot would be favorable.

A.J. Ellis and Kenley Jansen are due raises in the coming years, and Kershaw's new deal and Ramirez's (hopefully) soon-to-be-new deal will be factored in. Still, the Dodgers can absolutely afford Tanaka because they can replace pending free agents with their prospects.

Oh, and they'll almost certainly have to trade one of the four outfielders after the 2014 (or during, I suppose). It'll most likely be Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, with Matt Kemp a wafer-thin possibility. That, even if they have to eat half of one of those contracts, would save money.

The Dodgers have made it a point to build a strong farm system because that young, cheap, good talent can replace high-priced free agents rather easily.

Stan Kasten, Ned Colletti and Co. have a plan, and they're executing it as we speak. If they want Tanaka, they will get him. Money is no object for this club, and that's great, as a fan.

Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Los Angeles Dodgers' blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast and writes about the St. Louis Rams on the Yahoo Contributor Network. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.

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