Any time a player joins the New York Yankees, they do so knowing that they’re going to face extremely (and usually unfairly) high expectations to win and to win consistently. After putting up “video game” numbers in Japan last year and receiving the fifth-highest contract for a pitcher in the history of MLB, those expectations are definitely augmented for Masahiro Tanaka, whom the Yankees hope will revitalize a vulnerable starting rotation.
In an effort to curtail such lofty performance demands, GM Brian Cashman stated in an interview that he envisions Tanaka as the No. 3 starter in the rotation – not the instant ace that many anticipate. In doing so, Cashman was ensuring that Tanaka will not be run out of town if he fails to duplicate the success he had in Japan.
It was a good strategy on the part of Cashman but not many people fell for it. Every analyst countered with some form of the statement, “You don’t pay a guy $155 million over seven years to be the No. 3 starter in the rotation.” True as this may be, money should not determine a player’s role on the team. Paying a guy a higher salary does not magically make him a better ball player. Extra zeros on a pay stub do not replace hours of work.
Yes, Tanaka is one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game, but it’s also his first year in the Majors. You don’t typically see a rookie immediately dominate hitters in the Show and skyrocket to the top of the rotation. Pundits and fans expected too much from Tanaka and Cashman sold him short. The worst part is that he is yet to throw a single pitch off a Major League mound.
Tanaka just made his first Spring Training start. He went three innings allowing two hits with one strikeout and zero walks. He did, however, give up an absolute bomb to Freddy Galvis on a 3-1 pitch that was left over the heart of the plate. In other words, he was cruising with his splitter until he made a mistake and paid for it. He had an outing like most Major League-caliber pitchers.
Tanaka has the stuff to be dominant, but he’ll be facing tougher competition in a league that plays a more physically demanding regular season than he’s used to. He will struggle at times. He might emerge as another Yu Darvish; he might be the next Kei Igawa. Better yet, he might be the first Masahiro Tanaka.
Regardless, forget the money and forget his statistics in Japan. Tanaka’s spot in the rotation should be determined solely on his performance against Major League hitters.