A couple more pitchers come off the market (Balfour to Rays)

You might have wanted the Nationals to make a final offseason splash by signing Japanese free agent starter Masahiro Tanaka.

It wasn’t going to happen, especially not when Tanaka was getting a seven-year, $155 million offer from the Yankees, an offer that Tanaka accepted yesterday.

Tanaka was going to land a monster contract from some team that had a big hole in its rotation, but the Yankees really outdid themselves here, giving Tanaka the second-largest free agent contract ever handed out to a pitcher. This for a guy who hasn’t yet thrown a pitch in the majors. (For the record, the only pitcher that Tanaka now trails in that category is CC Sabathia, who, of course, is also a Yankee.)

The fact of the matter is that there were countless teams out there who needed starting pitching more than the Nationals did, and they were going to pay accordingly. Some suggested that the Nats could still look to sign Tanaka to round out a stellar rotation, but how was general manager Mike Rizzo going to budget in another $100 million-plus contract when he’s still worrying about extending his own young homegrown talents while maintaining a somewhat reasonable payroll?

An extension for Ian Desmond will cost a large chunk of change. Jordan Zimmermann will land a huge deal from someone eventually. Heck, when you’re talking about a seven-year deal for Tanaka, you have to also consider how that will impact your budget years down the road, when other deals for young players are an option.

The Nats might have liked Tanaka, but he wasn’t a fit right now given the type of money other teams were offering.

Meanwhile, the Athletics signed left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty to a two-year, $7 million deal yesterday, bolstering a bullpen that was already arguably the deepest and most talented in the majors.

In order to make room for O’Flaherty on their 40-man roster, the A’s designated former Nats outfielder Corey Brown for assignment, marking the second time Brown has been DFA this offseason.

O’Flaherty, who is working back from Tommy John surgery, isn’t expected to be back pitching in the majors until July, but I like this signing for Oakland. When healthy, O’Flaherty has proven to be one of the top late-inning relievers in the league, and he does more than just get left-handed hitters out. He strikes me as a kind of guy who can handle any role tossed at him, possibly including a closer role one day.

The Nats were one of the teams that expressed interest in O’Flaherty earlier this offseason, and there were some within the organization who felt the Nats should target the 28-year-old heavily. That interest faded, however, and the Nats ended up acquiring left-hander Jerry Blevins in a trade with the A’s, a deal that ironically might have opened the door for Oakland to add O’Flaherty.

(Insert your joke about the Nats and A’s completing yet another trade sometime soon, this one involving O’Flaherty, here.)

O’Flaherty might not have joined the Nationals, but at least Nats hitters can take solace in the fact that he didn’t return to the Braves, with whom he had pitched for the last five seasons.

In his career against the Nats, O’Flaherty has posted a 1.48 ERA and 0.857 WHIP over 30 1/3 innings.

If you can’t add him, rejoice when he leaves your division.

Update: Another pitcher linked to the Nats has signed elsewhere.

Reliever Grant Balfour has signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Rays, according to multiple reports. Balfour had agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Orioles earlier this offseason, only to have that deal fall apart after the O’s expressed some concerns with Balfour’s physical.

The Nats recently showed interest in possibly swooping in and adding Balfour, who saved 38 games for the A’s last season, but the fiery right-hander will remain in the American League.

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