The Los Angeles Angels have sent scouts to see Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, according to ESPN. A great talent, it would be dumb if the Angels didn’t try to sign Tanaka.

Tanaka is currently 20-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In fact, the last time he took a loss was on Aug. 19, 2012, making it 25 straight wins.

While there is some risk with pitchers coming over from Japan (see Hideki Irabu and Kenshin Kawakami), others like Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda have had success in Major League Baseball. Because of that, it’s worth the risk for the Angels to bid on Tanaka.


This Season

The 2013 season has been one of the worst for Angels starters in recent memory. They have combined for a 4.37 ERA, which ranks 23rd in baseball and is their worst since 2009, when they had a 4.44 starters’ ERA.

Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have been pretty good for the Angels, with each having an ERA of 3.36. But the team needs more than just two starters. Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams have all been unimpressive this year; especially Blanton, who is 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA.

Hanson is 4-3 with a 5.59 ERA, while Vargas is 8-7 with a 4.20 ERA. Both have also missed significant time due to injury this year, which hasn’t helped their case.

Vargas is scheduled to be a free agent after this year, while Hanson and Williams are still in arbitration years. But will the Angels even offer them a contract?

Frankly, Vargas is the only one of the bunch I’d want to keep with a 3.98 ERA over the last two years. Then again, he’s only gotten more than 10 wins once in his career. He’s also dealt with various injuries, including a torn labrum in his left hip (2008) and a blood clot in his armpit (2013).

While he did have 30-start season from 2009-11, there are still injury concerns nonetheless.

Starting pitching needs a serious makeover in Los Angeles, and this season proved that.


What Tanaka Brings

According to Baseball America’Ben Badler, Tanaka has cemented himself as the best pitcher in Japan.

At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Tanaka throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph. Even though Tanaka can reach the mid-90s, his fastball is the pitch that gives some scouts pause because it comes in on a flat plane, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest. 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 curveball as well.

While Tanaka’s stats haven’t been as consistent as Darvish’s were in his last seasons in Japan, he’s still yet to have an ERA higher than 2.50 since 2009. In fact, his ERAs in the last three years have been 1.27, 1.87 and 1.24.

Compare that to Kawakami’s last three seasons in Japan, where he had ERAs of 3.55, 2.30 and 3.86. While not bad marks, it shows Tanaka has had better success in Japan than Kawakami did, and I believe that success would translate better into MLB as well.

When you make him the No. 3 starter behind Wilson and Weaver, the Angels would have something to work with. Right now, there won’t be much until free agency works itself out.


The Money

The Angels have had no problem showing the money over the last few years. They gave Albert Pujols a 10-year, $242 million deal, Josh Hamilton a five-year, $133 million deal, C.J. Wilson a five-year, $77.5 million deal and Jered Weaver a five-year, $85 million deal.

While the team felt $20 million a year for Zack Greinke was too much this past offseason, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, this season’s struggles likely made them rethink that strategy.

While Tanaka won’t command $20 million a year, the Angels will still have to put up a posting bid, which could cost them close to $25 million, according to DiGiovanna in another story.

Tanaka, 24, could be worth it. Two scouts who have seen Tanaka pitch but are not authorized to speak publicly about him said that although Tanaka might not be in Texas ace Yu Darvish‘s class, he could be as good as or better than Hiroki Kuroda, who is 68-68 with a 3.37 earned-run average in six big league seasons.

With that said, the money would be well spent for the Angels, especially if they want to consider the signings of the previous four to be money well spent as well. There’s no point in spending the money if you’re not making the playoffs.


Why is it a Brilliant Move?

Plain and simply, if the Angels don’t improve their rotation, there will be no playoffs for them next year.

Of course they can go out on the free-agent market to try and sign guys like Ervin Santana, James Shields or Matt Garza. But will their cost and production be more than Tanaka’s?

Look at it this way, outside of the posting fee the Rangers placed on Darvish, they’re paying him $10 million a year over the next three years. In the last two years, they’ve paid him a total of $15 million. 

Now, figuring that Tanaka will get paid less than that, wouldn’t it be a better investment to go with Tanaka over the other three? You will have to add in the posting fee, but despite that, Tanaka will come in at a cheaper rate than other top pitchers on the market.

Some will say the other three are proven in MLB, but those are the ones that said the same thing about Darvish and Kuroda. Texas is reaping the benefits of taking a chance on Darvish and the Angels could do the same with Tanaka.

They’ll spend less money on Tanaka than they would on the other three, and they would be in just as good of position for the playoffs.

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