Dodgers bid frugally on Masahiro Tanaka, but not for fear of spending

The Dodgers may have lost out to the New York Yankees in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, but the Dodgers insist they haven't reached their spending threshold.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The Dodgers had just swallowed a quarter of a billion dollars in one swift gulp. They had liberated Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from Boston. It was a jolly afternoon at Dodger Stadium, particularly when the question arose as to whether the new owners had a spending limit.

“I haven’t found it yet,” Dodgers President Stan Kasten said that day. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”

As Masahiro Tanaka gets fitted for pinstripes, the baseball world looks to Los Angeles and wonders. The Dodgers got outbid — by a lot, and not just by the New York Yankees — for the Japanese ace.

In nearly two full years of ownership, Guggenheim Baseball has committed $1 billion to player salaries. Have the Dodgers finally run into a spending limit?


Apparently not, with no apologies to the rest of baseball. The Yankees won the bidding for Tanaka on Wednesday at seven years for $155 million, with the Dodgers also-rans for a fascinating reason: They’re not convinced Tanaka is all that.

“We’ll look back in a few years and see whose scouting reports were more accurate,” said a person familiar with the Dodgers’ thinking.

The Dodgers were interested, absolutely. They would not have bid more than $100 million if they did not believe Tanaka could pitch, and pitch well.

The Yankees spent $175 million on Tanaka, counting the $20 million in compensation to his Japanese club. The complete list of pitchers to sign for more: Clayton Kershaw, last week by the Dodgers, and Justin Verlander.

The Yankees and Chicago Cubs were believed to have outbid the Dodgers by “a decent amount,” according to one person familiar with the Tanaka sweepstakes. Another said the Dodgers were “not anywhere close.”

That is an entirely defensible position to take with Kershaw and Zack Greinke already on hand. The Yankees are desperate for arms; the Dodgers are not.

But the next few years will offer an intriguing referendum on how well the Dodgers have spent their money in building a touted international scouting operation.

Logan White, the Dodgers’ scouting director, made the winning call on Yasiel Puig, a $42-million call widely mocked within the industry at the time. White already had tracked Hyun-jin Ryu when they hired Bob Engle last fall to run international scouting. White and Engle each endorsed Ryu, and he too was a victory, at $62 million.

Under Engle, the Dodgers now have made two calls that could shape their season: yes to $28 million to Cuban shortstop Alexander Guerrero, expected to convert to second base and start there this season, and no to an all-out bid for Tanaka.

The Dodgers did not see him as an ace, at least not for the long term. We’ll see. But what signing Tanaka would have enabled the Dodgers to do is add a legitimate starter without sacrificing prospects in trade, at a time the free-agent market is thin and the Dodgers are intent on rebuilding their minor league system.

“Any day we hold onto prospects is a good day for me and the owners,” Kasten said Wednesday, “not that we wouldn’t move prospects for the right thing. But, the longer we hold onto our prospects, the better we’ll be in the long run.”

The Dodgers found the cost in prospects prohibitive when they spoke with the Tampa Bay Rays about ace David Price. With the Tanaka sweepstakes over, the Rays could reach out again to the Dodgers and other teams about Price.

“I have no doubt they will revisit that, starting today,” a major league executive said Wednesday.

The Dodgers would like to add another starting pitcher before the start of the season — Beckett, coming off surgery, currently is the No. 5 starter — but General Manager Ned Colletti does not consider it a high priority.

“I think we’re fine either way,” Colletti told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez.

The Angels really could use another starter. Their baseball people thought Tanaka absolutely was worth the money, but they just didn’t have it, not when owner Arte Moreno indicated he would not want to pay a luxury tax, not after the $375 million Moreno bestowed upon Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

What the Tanaka derby showed is that an L.A. baseball team indeed has hit its spending limit. That team is not the Dodgers.

Twitter: @BillShaikin