The New York Yankees‘ front office made it no secret that they were devastated after the team missed out on the playoffs in 2013 while their rival Boston Red Sox won an unexpected World Series title. Perhaps their most important offseason move was signing Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract. Tanaka will finally make his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto later tonight.
The Yankees desperately need Tanaka to be the ace of their staff as C.C. Sabathia was lit up on Opening Day against the offensively-challenged Houston Astros. Tanaka was brought in to co-anchor the staff with Sabathia, but now might need to surpass the struggling lefty as the staff’s ace, despite being slated as the fourth starter in the rotation to start the season.
In Japan, Tanaka did nothing but dazzle during his seven-year career, going 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA and 1.10 WHIP from 2007-2013. Although Japanese starters pitch once a week compared to MLB starters who pitch every fifth day, Tanaka still pitched around 200 innings almost every season and typically made 28 starts, which is just a few less than a targeted 30 in MLB, so rumors that he will possibly struggle to stay conditioned are a tad erroneous.
Tanaka had his best season in Japan in 2013, when he went 24-0 in 27 starts with a 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Comparing that to Yu Darvish‘s best season in Japan (18-6 with a 1.44 ERA in 2011) there is no reason Tanaka does not have a chance to be equally or more impressive than has Darvish, as Tanaka was every bit as good while facing the exact same hitters.
Fantasy baseball owners were very mixed on Tanaka going into draft season. I had seen him go as early as the fifth round and as late as the 12th. While I can understand feeling a bit apprehensive about taking someone as early as the fifth round who has never pitched in the majors, I anticipate that he will reward his owners this season, winning at least 15 games while pitching to a sub 3.25 ERA and striking out a solid 8-9 batter per nine innings.