To date the rumors surrounding Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka have mostly focused on teams with aspirations to contend in 2014. Some of those teams can realistically expect to be in the playoff hunt, such as the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and arguably the Los Angeles Angels. Others might be delusional (sorry, Seattle).
But at age 25 and presumably in line to land a long-term deal, could Tanaka sign with a team that is rebuilding?
That possibility has already been in play a little bit with the Chicago Cubs, but what about the Houston Astros?
This morning Buster Olney suggests that the Astros should be serious contenders for Tanaka (insider required). He points out the ridiculous payroll flexibility they have in coming years (only $34 million committed to deals beyond the 2014 season) and the fact that Tanaka could position himself as one of their key players. If he did sign with Houston with all of the hype surrounding his free agency, you could even argue that he would become a face of the franchise type of guy.
The Astros, despite their atrocious record last season, formed something of a cult following among baseball writers and fans because of their full-blown commitment to being bad now in favor of trying to be good later. Those decisions freed them up to make a big move like signing Tanaka.
Is that the type of move they had in mind? Would they be able to lure Tanaka away from contenders? If they do get in the mix, it will certainly make things interesting.