Masahiro Tanaka has officially been posted. (Cue the Bane voice) Let the games begin.
Though several teams need pitching, proven arms like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza have remained free agents because teams were waiting to see if Tanaka would be posted. Now that he’s available, those teams are expected to compete in an all-out bidding war for the 25-year-old right-hander, with one of the participants being the New York Yankees.
The Bombers have gone on a spending spree this offseason with additions like Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, but aside from re-signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal, they haven’t addressed one of the team’s greatest weaknesses in 2013: the starting rotation. Many believe Tanaka could be the solution.
Still, others have cautioned against relying on Tanaka to revive New York’s rotation because of past failures with Japanese aces. The New York Times’ Jay Schreiber and David Waldstein have pointed out how in 2007, the Yankees paid $20 million plus a $26 million posting fee to acquire Kei Igawa, who went 2-4 with a 6.66 ERA in his brief career in pinstripes. That is to say, there’s no guarantee Tanaka will have any success in MLB.
True, Tanaka has never thrown a pitch off a big league mound, but to compare him to Igawa is just ridiculous. Before coming to New York, Igawa was 86-60 with a 3.65 ERA. He has gone 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, including a 24-0, 1.27 ERA campaign in 2013. Igawa never posted an ERA under 2.00, a feat Tanaka’s accomplished three years in a row.
Tanaka definitely has the stuff to be a successful major league pitcher. The bigger question is whether or not he can maintain that level of play throughout an entire season and into the playoffs. In his career, Tanaka has never made more than 28 starts in a season.
What is more is that he started only 22 games in 2012 and 20 in 2010. Thus, a more accurate comparison might be Daisuke Matsuzaka. “Dice-K” went 33-15 in his first two seasons with the Boston Red Sox before arm fatigue led to DL stints and eventually Tommy John surgery. The longer season could be daunting for Tanaka but in his defense, he did throw 212 innings this year and 226.1 in 2011.
Regardless of the inherent risks of signing a Japanese pitcher, Tanaka’s going to get a huge payday and the Yankees could be the perfect team for him. Even if durability becomes an issue, the Yankees have recently demonstrated they don’t care about the long term.