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Red Sox may still pursue Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka did not visit with any Red Sox officials during his visit to Los Angeles last week, but the team has had conversations with the agent for the prized Japanese pitcher, Casey Close, according to a team source.

Late last week, Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino issued a “no comment” on whether the Red Sox had met with the 25-year-old righthander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this past season in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan.

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The Red Sox have been secretive about their interest, or lack thereof, in a pitcher many teams seem to believe could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in a major league rotation. The Red Sox seem to be more discerning, perhaps because they were burned by their last big Japanese pursuit, Daisuke Matsuzaka, which cost the team $103 million. About half of that sum went toward a posting fee.

With the new posting system, teams can bid up to the maximum $20 million posting fee, and the player can negotiate with all the bidding teams. While the system allows more teams to enter the bidding, it appears large-market teams still have the advantage.

The Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Mariners have been linked most strongly to Tanaka, but that doesn’t mean others, such as the Blue Jays and Phillies, aren’t pursuing him.

The Yankees need a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and believe strongly that Tanaka could be that pitcher. They already have Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation, and he could be a strong selling point for Tanaka.

While the days of the Yankees outbidding everyone for a player aren’t exactly over, the 8,000-pound gorilla in the room is now the Dodgers, who seem to have an endless flow of money to compete for international players and have made it a top priority in their organization. The Dodgers have said publicly they will not be outbid on Tanaka, so it would be up to the pitcher as to where he plays. He would have to turn down the Dodgers to play for less money someplace else. At least that’s the way it’s shaping up.

The Red Sox are in a strong position, with young pitchers ready to compete for spots on the major league roster. Brandon Workman, Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes could be every bit as good as Tanaka.

The Red Sox also have six veteran starting pitchers. One of them, Jon Lester, is the ace of the staff and in the final year of his contract, meaning he’ll command a huge payday either before or when he reaches free agency. An issue in favor of pursuing Tanaka is that Clay Buchholz, who is a No. 1 or No. 2 when healthy, hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career so far.

The Red Sox have had success with Japanese relievers: Lefthander Hideki Okajima gave them two quality years, Junichi Tazawa has turned into a strong set-up man, and Koji Uehara saved the day as the closer last season.

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