First it was Daisuke Matsuzaka, and after that it was Yu Darvish. Now, Masahiro Tanaka is the latest professional baseball player out of Japan to be posted for all MLB teams to bid on. There are a number of teams that are after the services of Tanaka, but should the Washington Nationals be one of them?
At first glance, the answer to that question is a resounding no. They have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and recently added Doug Fister. The only question mark in the rotation is the fifth spot, and that will likely come down to either Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark or Ross Detwiler. They have four spots locked in and a fifth one will be in good hands. It certainly looks as though Washington has the pieces for another dominant pitching staff.
However, it’s hard to not want a talent like Tanaka. In 2013 for Rakuten, the 25-year old right hander went a perfect 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with 183 strikeouts to just 32 walks. 2013 marked the third consecutive season in which he posted a sub-2.00 ERA, and he holds a 2.30 ERA over his last seven seasons. Simply put, he’s a talent that usually comes around once in a general manager’s lifetime.
Adding Tanaka actually makes some sense for the Nationals. He’ll solidify the rotation and make it arguably the best in baseball. It would allow Detwiler to head to the bullpen, a place he’s been before, and that would give them another left-hander out there. For Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan, it would allow them continue to grow in the minor leagues or even possibly be put in a trade deal.
Looking further on down the road, it may also save the Nationals a lot of money. Instead of having to worry about re-signing Jordan Zimmermann to a high-priced and high-risk long-term contract, they’ll be able to let him walk in free agency and still have Tanaka on the roster. It’s estimated that he’ll get a $100 million contract whenever he does get signed, and that’ll be much cheaper than the deal expected from Zimmermann.
On the flip side, it is a risky move and it seems a bit unnecessary. There is a big difference between baseball in Japan and baseball in the USA, and the transition can be difficult. Yu Darvish has made the transition smoothly, but Matsuzaka had trouble. Also, Tanaka has already pitched seven full seasons and over 1,300 innings, so there is wear and tear on that arm. There’s no telling what kind of condition it will in be further on down the road.
Maybe the best way to look at this decision is to simply say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Nationals rotation is sound just the way it is, and signing Tanaka would bring a media circus to town that comes with plenty of risk. If they really feel the need to drop many millions on a pitcher, then focusing on extending Jordan Zimmermann would be a better idea.