Wednesday, December 25, 2013
After weeks of the Japanese media reporting that Masahiro Tanaka would or wouldn't be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, the right-hander got the go ahead to play baseball in the U.S. Now the crazy begins.
The Yankees are expected to back up the Brinks' truck to land Tanaka and make him a long term fixture in their rotation. They'll have plenty of competition from the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, and whoever else wants to throw their hat in the ring, but the Yankees are expected to blow away the competition with the numbers preceding six zeroes.
The Steinbrenners and GM Brian Cashman have been counting on the 25-year old Tanaka playing in the Major Leagues to shove the team back in the right direction after a disastrous 2013 campaign and get younger in the process as well.
If the Yankees win out, Tanaka would join CC Sabathia (33), Hiroki Kuroda (39), and Ivan Nova (27 next month) in the rotation. The fifth and final spot would likely come down to a competition between Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and anyone else who wants to throw their fastball into the ring.
Tanaka's contract is expected to leave Yu Darvish's six-year, $56MM deal with Texas in the dust. The Yankees could work some side deals as well to for Tanaka's wife, Mai Satoda, who is a Japanese pop singer. "Hey, would you like to play Madison Garden or the Barclays Center?" They should also use Kuroda and Hideki Matsui to recruit the native of Itami, Hyōgo Prefecture.
Tanaka played for Rakuten in the Nippon Professional Baseball league for seven seasons, compiling a 99-35 mark in 175 career games. (All but three of which were starts.) Tanaka's performance this past season was phenomenal - he went 24-0 in 27 starts plus a relief appearance. Known as "Makun" or "Ma" by his teammates, the 6'2" righty allowed 30 earned runs (1.27 ERA), 168 hits, walked 30 and struck out 183 in 212 innings pitched. And it wasn't only the second best season of his career.
Two years ago he posted the same ERA in 226.1 innings with 241 strikeouts, 27 walks and 171 hits. His 0.875 WHIP topped the 0.943 from this past season. It sounds like Tanaka has the right mental toughness for the Big Apple. He threw 160 pitches in a complete game loss in the sixth game of the Japanese Championship Series, then came back to save Game 7 the next day with a 15-pitch performance. Tanaka normally throws a fastball that tops out at 96 mph. He was still throwing 92-94 mph in the series finale.
Understandably, after watching a pitcher like Daisuke Matsuzaka wear down in the Major Leagues you have to be concerned about those 160 pitch games. One Major League scout said as much to the NY Times' David Waldstein back in November. Coming to the US in his mid-20's, Tanaka may actually have a much longer career than had he stayed in Japan, since warning bells and whistles (figuratively) go off when a pitcher throws his 100th delivery in a Major League game.
A team like the Yankees should also take special care after watching CC Sabathia's deterioration after many years of high pitch counts and 200+ innings pitched. But that's all for another day. While some slept last night with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads, Cashman and other GMs dreamt of a Japanese pitcher dancing on the mound in the seventh game of the World Series.
Merry Christmas to all and to all good luck. Masahiro Tanaka certainly doesn't need it right now!