The news of Masahiro Tanaka getting posted has brought some joy to New York Yankees fans during the holiday season. Some fans may have been a little unhappy about the Yankees’ starting rotation heading into the 2014 season, but with Tanaka coming to the United States, there is a glimmer of hope.
There may not be a guarantee that the Yankees will be able to sign Tanaka, but there is still hope when you consider that the Yankees have shown in the past that if they are desperate enough to fill a need, they will push hard for a player and hand out a huge contract if necessary. This points to there being a very good chance of Tanaka landing in New York.
For the purpose of conversation, let’s say the Yankees sign Tanaka. They bring him to New York, have a huge introductory press conference for him, and he is treated like a hero. Once the dust settles, there is one obvious question, where will Tanaka pitch in the starting rotation?
Before we get to where Tanaka would slot into the rotation, let’s dive into what the signing would mean to solidify the Yankees’ rotation and for the competition at the back end of the rotation. Instead of a competition for the fourth and fifth spots between a presumably healthy Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno, there would only be a battle for the fifth spot between Pineda and Phelps, with Nuno going to the bullpen. This is exactly what the Yankees need. Before Tanaka got posted, there was either going to be a competition between those three guys for the last two spots in the rotation, or the Yankees signing a guy like Matt Garza and having two pitchers battle for the fifth spot. This was an okay scenario, but not very exciting. The Yankees’ rotation would have had the potential to only be good, not great. Now, with Tanaka in the mix, the Yankees can sign him, and hope Pineda is healthy and sharp enough to win competition between him and Phelps, which would allow Phelps to go to the bullpen. If that all plays out, the Yankees’ rotation would have the potential to be great, with the bullpen being solid once again for another year.
So, with all that being said, where would Tanaka pitch? It seems inevitable for CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova to be the first three guys in the rotation. Even though Sabathia struggled last year, he is still the ace. Kuroda struggled during the last two months of 2013, but he has been solid his whole career and will be back as the second starter. Those first two spots seem pretty much locked up with those two guys. The interesting question will be if Tanaka would be placed as the third starter with Nova as the fourth starter. The answer seems like it would be no.
Even though Tanaka is extremely talented and there is all this hype for him, the Yankees should not put the kind of pressure on him that there would be in New York by making him the No. 3 starter. Being behind Sabathia and Kuroda would be a lot of responsibility. The Yankees should do the smart thing — place Tanaka behind Nova and allow him to adjust to the major leagues and the vaunted American League East. It is better to ease this guy along, because he can be special. Fans just have to hope that the Yankees convince Tanaka that New York is the right place for him to pitch.