Braves have money to make run at Tanaka, but likely won’t

Sometime after the Braves and a small handful of Mr. Potters fleeced Cobb County taxpayers of $300 million and gift-wrapped it for a multi-billion-dollar corporation, and about the time a baseball team signed a career 70-70 pitcher to fix their starting rotation, a thought occurred: When does it become about competing?

All 30 major league teams are eligible to bid for a Japanese pitcher named Masahiro Tanaka. I can think of at least one team that will take a pass.

Tanaka is sort of like Kenshin Kawakami, except that he’s really good. He went 24-0 this year. In his past three seasons in Japan, he has a cumulative record of 53-9 with 593 strikeouts and 78 walks in 611 1/3 innings. His ERAs those three seasons: 1.27, 1.87 and 1.27.

We can debate the merits of statistical wizardry in Nippon Professional Baseball. But several major league teams are willing to pay a $20 million posting fee (purchase price) to Tanaka’s club, Tohoku Rakuten, if they win the bidding for his services, as well as a possible nine-figure contract (up to $20 million annually). That speaks volumes of his expected impact.

Tanaka, 25, is a top-of-the rotation pitcher. The Braves need a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. But they are expected to sit on their hands, one of which is holding their wallet. This is generally the way they operate, especially while nursing Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton hangovers.

The chance of the Braves entering the bidding for Tanaka is almost non-existent. General manager Frank Wren indicated following the signing of Gavin Floyd he likely was done shopping for pitchers. Asked via email about Tanaka, he wrote back: “We have seen Tanaka multiple times and by multiple scouts over the last year to form our evaluation. We have a good feel for the value we place upon him.”

If the Braves don’t make a move, they will be counting on an ace to emerge. Being hopeful is cheaper than being proactive.

This isn’t about Wren balking to give up prospects or young players in a trade. This is about money. Tanaka is a relative global free agent.

The Braves like to cast themselves as financially responsible. Their 2013 payroll of about $90 million placed 16th of 30 teams. Forbes values the franchise at $629 million (15th in the majors) with revenue of $225 million (12th) and operating income of $12.4 million (17th). Given those numbers, the payroll seems in line.

Here’s the problem: Their operating strategy is insufficient against the backdrop of deep-pocketed owners. Liberty Media is a wealthy corporation, with $26.255 billion in assets, $10.1 billion in revenue and $1.53 billion in profit (numbers via Fortune). Liberty Media owns shares of several companies, including: Charter Communications, Time Warner Inc., Time Warner Cable, Viacom, Sprint, Sirius, Live Nation Entertainment and Barnes and Noble.

The Braves are a speck on their spreadsheet.

So you can certainly see why this major corporation needed $300 million in public money from Cobb County — plus undefined annual contributions for capital maintenance and repairs — for a baseball stadium in which they will keep all revenue.

I’ll pause now for a moment of silent reflection.

John C. Malone is the chairman of Liberty Media. His net worth is $6.7 billion. He also is the largest land owner of any individual in the United States. His 2.2 million acres rank just ahead of former Braves owner Ted Turner (2.1 million), with property in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Until the Braves-Cobb deal, Malone apparently did not control any property near the Big Chicken. I guess it was just too expensive.

So to recap: 1) The Braves have a lot money, but prefer you not know that; 2) the Braves’ owners really have a lot of money and are laughing hysterically after suckering a few Cobb County commissioners into thinking they needed public assistance; 3) the Braves don’t need Masahiro Tanaka because Gavin Floyd will be the missing link to a World Series. And he was on sale.

Remain calm. All is well. Let’s instead focus on the blueprints for the new baseball “experience” in Cobb that will, according to semi-retired Braves executive John Schuerholz, “thrive with action and vitality 365 days a year, not just game days.” (Translation: There will be a Chili’s there. But a really good Chili’s.)

Bidding for Tanaka opened at 8 a.m. the day after Christmas. It closes at 5 p.m. Jan. 24.

Casey Close is Tanaka’s agent. I know Wren has his number because he also represents Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, as well as Derek Jeter, Clayton Kershaw and Ryan Howard. But most believe Tanaka will end up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees or Arizona Diamondbacks.

How unfortunate. The Braves need pitching help. They need a marketing boost. They need to sell tickets and get people excited. Certainly, tapping into the growing Asian population in the Atlanta area could be beneficial.

But they appear to be willing to settle for what they’re getting on the field, despite tremendous wealth off of it. It’s all about priorities.

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