Washington Nationals Should Pursue Masahiro Tanaka

By Nick Comando
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2013-2014 offseason, the Washington Nationals will have many issues to address. The key will be discerning those issues as fan perceived or actual issues that need to be addressed.

One of Washington’s issues will be to fill the hole they will have with the welcomed departure of Dan Haren, who will most likely go down as one of the worst free agent signings in the team’s history. Washington does, as always, have some in house candidates, with names like Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan being two that will come up in conversation a lot.

However, based on GM Mike Rizzo‘s track record, he may try to pull of a deal a la Gio Gonzalez in the winter of 2011 and address one of Washington’s other needs.

With that in mind, Washington may look to the free agent market for a starting pitcher, though they may not like what is out there. Matt Garza and Ervin Santana will lead the crop of free agent pitchers, but both are at or over the age of 30, and though Washington has shown no fear in signing 30-year-olds, they may want to keep their options open and not give four or five years to pitchers that will be 30 at the beginning of the deals.

Washington may try other paths to finding a starter. They could trade for someone like Yovani Gallardo, who has pitched really well since coming off the DL on August 17 and still would be 28 at the beginning of next season, with an option for 2015. He could be a solid option, but the Milwaukee Brewers may want a king’s ransom back for him, which Washington may not want to agree to.

Washington should actually look overseas for their next pitcher, as there is a certain Japanese pitcher who will most likely hit the MLB Posting System this winter. His name is Masahiro Tanaka, and he is currently 20-0 for the Pacific League’s Rakuten Golden Eagles.

At 24, he is already in his seventh professional season, and is believed to not be as good as Texas Rangers stud Yu Darvish. However, he is believed to be able to have much more extended success than Daisuke Matsuzaka had. Tanaka features a 6-foot-2 frame with a 95 mph fastball, a very sharp slider and a split finger fastball that has come on strong in recent seasons.

Tanaka also boasts what will most likely now be three consecutive seasons with an ERA below 2.00, and also holds hitters to a .147 average with runners in scoring position.

The biggest problem with pitchers from the Far East has been their size and sustainability — being unable to hold up to the rigors of a five-man major league rotation, along with the fact that Japanese baseball is sometimes considered to be equivalent to triple-A level, with some teams having players playing every day who would probably be bench players in rookie ball.

Darvish broke the mold for Japanese pitchers, standing 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, which is why he is probably going to be the most successful Japanese pitcher in baseball history.

Tanaka is not as big as Darvish, but he is two years younger. Though he will not come cheap, he could be as successful as Darvish has been in his first couple of seasons in Texas. The big thing with Tanaka is his youth and his ability to improve year after year, especially with his splitter.

Washington passed on Darvish a few seasons ago, and I think it’s safe to say they may be kicking themselves for doing so. Regardless of guys they need to extend, ownership has money and has shown no fear of spending it. If that is truly the case, Washington should take a chance at Tanaka. They could actually have the best rotation in baseball since Tanaka would slide in at no. 4 in their rotation.

Washington needs to make changes, and making a “go for it” move like getting a Tanaka could be just what the team needs.

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