Masahiro Tanaka isn't the free agent pitcher the Angels deserve. He is the free agent pitcher the Angels need.
After two off-seasons of free agency throwing around money like Walter White trying to buy off violent neo-Nazis, the Halos find themselves on the precipice of irrelevancy. Their machinations have all led to a flawed roster and a paper thin farm system. Even with that, the idea of the Angels being World Series contenders in 2014 can't be completely ruled out. That is the luxury of having Mike Trout on your team.
But in trying to salvage their future, Angel management has to realize that their resources are severely stretched, giving them very little margin for error. The Pujols and Hamilton signings have eaten up much of their budget and their constant forfeiture of draft picks combined with short-sighted trades has left their farm system barren. That doesn't give them a lot to work with considering that they need to upgrade their rotation, rebuild the bullpen from scratch and add depth to the lineup.
The plan that the public has been let in on is pretty straightforward: trade Kendrick and/or one of Bourjos and Trumbo to land a high-end young pitcher and use the rest of their money smartly to fix the bullpen and fill whatever holes the trades leave in the lineup. It is a pretty sound plan, but it is fraught with risk as it is highly dependent on the aforementioned young pitcher panning out immediately and significantly. If this youngster flops, then the rotation doesn't improve and the lineup is weakened, a perfect recipe for the 2014 season ending as another massive disappointment. Alas, it is probably the only viable path for Dipoto (or whoever is GM) has available to him.
Which brings us to Masahiro Tanaka. The 24-year old Japanese pitcher is the most highly coveted arm to come out of the NPB since Yu Darvish. He has been dominant in the NPB this year and the consensus amongst scouts is that he can make the leap to MLB and hit the ground running number two starter. Technically, he is kind of a prospect, but one teams can have a much higher degree of confidence in.
The best thing about him is that all it will take to get him is money. Yep, just money. While the Angels likely don't have the financial clout to sign a big ticket free agent like Robinson Cano, they should still have enough cash to pay the posting fee for Tanaka and sign him to the necessary contract. Depending on the proposed changes to the posting system, they might even still have enough money left over to address the bullpen.
If the Angels can beat out all the competition for Tanaka, and make no mistake there will be intense competition for his services in this depressed free agent market, they get their young stud pitcher and get to keep the lineup intact. That prevents the offense from getting worse and circumvents the need for the team to spend more money replacing the bat they just traded. What it also does is give the Halo front office options.
With Tanaka in the fold, the Angels have the option to not touch the position player side of the order. They can keep Kendrick at second and use Green to fill the hole at third. They can keep Calhoun and Shuck on the bench, giving the team some strong depth in the even that Pujols fails to return to full strength, Hamilton craters again or Trumbo goes into another two month slump. They could also still make a trade, only a more minor one involving Calhoun or Shuck, to address the bullpen. Heck, they could even double down on their desire to add a high ceiling young arm to the rotation and trade Kendrick/Trumbo/Bourjos of a Yordany Ventura/Zach Lee type instead of re-signing Vargas or someone of that ilk. Landing Tanaka puts all of those options on the table and that is really all you can ask for.
The catch, of course, is that the Angels would need to sign Tanaka. At this point that seems unlikely strictly based on their history of pursuing international free agents. They made no attempt to sign Cuban hurler Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (though in retrospect they might've known about his elbow problems). They showed some initial interest in Hyun-Jin Ryu and then reportedly declined to make any kind of bid for him. They also, to the best of my recollection, didn't even take the time kick the tires on Yu Darvish.
Perhaps the lack of interest stemmed from the Angels being in the midst or rebuilding their international scouting department, but one would think they could find someone to scout a guy if they were legitimately interested. Maybe the issue is that Arte Moreno balks at the idea of paying a large sum of money for the posting fee and then giving an unproven pitcher a sizable contract. That excuse rings hollow though as it would be a weird line in the sand for Moreno to draw the line when it comes to reckless spending. It could be just as simple as the team overestimating how good their rotation was going to be when they passed on Darvish and to a lesser extent Ryu.
Surely they won't make that same error in judgment this time around, right?