The latest gem to come out of Japan, Masahiro Tanaka, is currently being bid on by teams around the MLB. A few numbers have been estimated for his contract, either $100 million total or roughly $17.5 million per year, but how much of that money will Tanaka be worth? Thanks to his seven-year career in Japan, Tanaka is going to have a very short lifespan in the MLB.
In the past seven years, Tanaka has pitched seven full, very good seasons. The only problem is the wear and tear that he has put on his arm. Baseball life in Japan is very different from baseball life in the USA. The farm system isn’t in place and players begin the long grind of a baseball career early. At just the ripe old age of 18 years old, Tanaka was placed on the professional baseball tour in Japan.
As an 18-year-old, Tanaka started 28 games and pitched a total 186.1 innings. Over his seven-year career in Japan, he’s pitched 1,315 innings over 175 games, 172 of them starts. While his numbers are phenomenal — 2.30 ERA, 53 complete games, 1,238 strikeouts — the risk that comes with signing him is very great, especially when you look at the financial impact.
In order to even sign him, the MLB club that wins the rights to him owes his Japanese club, Rakuten, $20 million. Then, they’ll also have to negotiate a contract that won’t be team-friendly considering the health risk that they are acquiring. There’s no telling how good of shape Tanaka’s arm is and how much longer he’ll be able to keep up this high level of play. In five years when he’s 30 years old, will he still be worth it? I just don’t see it.
According to SI.com, one MLB executive said that “he’s still got serious miles on him. [Tanaka is a] very attractive player nonetheless but a real risk.” Masahiro Tanaka’s future in the MLB exists, but it’s certainly not a long one. A pitcher that has as many hard innings on his arm as he does just doesn’t have very much longer to go. It’s not like the MLB is getting a fresh arm. He’s already pitched seven long years and that will greatly depreciate his actual value.
One player that Tanaka has been compared to is Japanese-turned-MLB pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. When Matsuzaka was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a 26-year-old in 2007, he gave them two solid seasons before finally falling well off the pace. Now, he’s a free agent that has a very bleak future in the MLB.
Don’t be surprised if Masahiro Tanaka suffers a similar fate as that of his countryman. There is a lot of wear and tear on his shoulder and that doesn’t bode well for long career in the MLB.