Well, well well. After a few offseasons of not breaking the bank, the New York Yankees have finally decided to return to their big-spending ways. For the first time since the Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett offseason, the Yankees have splurged in free agency.
Their latest prize is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, and the Yankees gave him a seven-year, $155 million deal. His deal includes an opt-out clause after the fourth season and has a full no-trade clause as well. My initial reaction to the signing was that that is a lot of money to throw at a pitcher who has yet to throw one inning in the MLB. Sure, he dominated the Japanese League, but does his success in Japan translate to success in the Major Leagues? That remains to be seen.
Based only on the highlights that I have seen of Tanaka, his pitches are filthy — specifically his splitter. His splitter looks like nothing any current MLB pitcher can throw; the drop on that pitch as it reaches home plate is outstanding. He also features a slider and a mid-90s fastball.
The Yankees needed to sign Tanaka more than any of the other teams that were in the race for him. The Los Angeles Dodgers seemed to be the other front-runner throughout the entire process, and they already have more than $100 million committed to their six starting pitchers in 2014. Signing Tanaka would have added a ton of money to the rotation, and it would have likely forced the Dodgers to trade one of those starters.
The Yankees’ rotation, other than Tanaka, Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, is highly questionable. Due to the retirement of Andy Pettitte and injuries to Michael Pineda, there aren’t a lot of guarantees in their current rotation. Some candidates for their fourth and fifth rotation spots include Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and the oft-injured Pineda.
The Chicago Cubs were the other team that was most involved. For the Cubs, they are still a few years away from being legitimate contenders; spending more than $150 million on a 25-year-old unproven pitcher just didn’t seem to make a ton of sense for them. While Tanaka is relatively young, he isn’t a 20-year-old that a team can plan to build around for the next 10 seasons.
The Yankees are certainly getting a talented pitcher in Tanaka. The question is whether or not he can be as successful as he was in Japan in MLB. He clearly won’t be as dominant here, but how good can he be away from Japan?