CHICAGO -- How serious is the White Sox pursuit of Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka?
It's serious enough that the team has confirmed, through a statement, its meeting with Tanaka and his representatives in the Los Angeles area on Thursday. Executive vice president Ken Williams, general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura were present at the meeting.
"The meeting was exploratory in nature," Hahn said in the statement. "It was an opportunity for us to sit down with Masahiro and discuss how he potentially fits our vision for the Chicago White Sox for the next several seasons."
This statement continued, "Out of respect for Mr. Tanaka's decision-making process, the White Sox will have no further comment on the status of any additional conversations until he makes his final decision public."
Tanaka, 25, would fit perfectly into Chicago's reshaping process in that he should be able to contribute immediately but also would only get better as the team's youthful core develops. Tanaka posted a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA over 28 games (27 starts) for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, and has struck out 1,238 and walked 275 over 1,315 career innings.
Adding the right-hander could work in one of two ways for the White Sox:
He could join with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks and Erik Johnson in forming one of the top young and controlled rotations in the American League. In addition, his presence could free up a valued commodity such as Quintana, whom the White Sox potentially could use in a trade to try to upgrade at a position such as catcher.
Quintana has drawn interest during this offseason, but the talented southpaw falls just under Sale, Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu in the "untouchable" category.
Because the White Sox are not considered a front-line contender for 2014, Tanaka would be making his Major League debut in a major media market but with slightly lower pressure. The same holds true for Abreu, who agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal at the start of this offseason.
All scenarios are steeped in the purely hypothetical.
When factoring in the 12 players under contract, the projected contracts for the three remaining arbitration-eligible players and contracts for the rest of the active roster, Chicago's payroll checks in somewhere around $84 million or $85 million. Yes, the 2013 operating payroll stood at $112 million, but it is not expected to reach that same level in 2014.
A posting fee of $20 million, which will be paid over two years, has leveled the playing field for all teams and will only be paid by the winning team in the negotiations. But contractual projections for Tanaka in the five-year, $75 million to $100 million range would seem to leave the White Sox as less than major players.
Counting them out is a dangerous precedent, though. It was Williams who pulled off the Freddy Garcia deal with Seattle in 2004, when the right-hander was expected to go elsewhere, and Garcia ended up being a key contributor in the 2005 World Series championship run.
Checking in with Tanaka -- at the very least -- certainly doesn't hurt the White Sox. But with high salary expectations, Tanaka might have to want to play more for the White Sox in this instance than they even want him.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.