On Thursday, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was officially posted, and the New York Yankees wasted no time tossing their star-spangled top hat into the ring. Sources report they have already made contact with Excel Sports Management, the company who represents Tanaka (and incidentally, Derek Jeter).
On paper Tanaka would indubitably help the pitching-challenged Yankees; the 25-year-old posted insane numbers last season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles (24-0, 1.27). But the road to signing the phenom is a bit more complicated than a few meetings with the agent, and the Yankees do have some things to consider before deciding to sign him at any cost.
For starters, the Yankees reportedly face stiff competition from teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners, and Diamondbacks, with the winning team required to pay a $20 million posting fee. Although the posting fee wouldn’t factor into the Yankees’ payroll, Tanaka is expected to fetch around $17 million per year in a lucrative long-term contract. That’s a lot of cash for someone still unproven in this country, and given the Yankees’ disillusionment with long-term contracts as of late, it may be enough to make them hesitate.
Another factor to consider is Tanaka’s massive workload in his young career. He has 1,315 innings pitched under his belt, and in this day and age of pitch counts and inning limits, that’s the most of anyone his age in the past 35 years. This statistic could give rise to the fear of early burnout in the more demanding major leagues, and if the Yankees are going to view Tanaka as a long-term solution to their rotation issues it could be a concern.
Japanese pitching transplants have had mixed success over the years in the American major leagues. There have been duds such as Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa, and to a lesser extent, Daisuke Matsuzaka. On the other hand, Yu Darvish has lived up to expectations in his first two seasons in the U.S., and Hiroki Kuroda’s numbers have stayed pretty consistent across both leagues.
If the Yankees do sign Tanaka, it will make it nearly impossible for them to remain under the ubiquitous $189 million payroll goal we’ve been hearing so much about since last season. That is, if it is still a goal: The sting of a playoff-less 2013 has no doubt been the impetus for Hal Steinbrenner to recently reassure the fans that the payroll limit will not compromise “our commitment to field a championship-caliber team.”
If we are to believe Steinbrenner’s most recent rhetoric–and the offseason acquisitions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran indicate very much that we should–the question is not if the Yankees can afford to go after Tanaka, but how they could afford not to, despite the myriad questions his signing would raise. I don’t care how much the Yankees believe they have fortified their lineup in the wake of Robinson Cano’s departure; there is no way they will contend without a viable rotation. And outside of Tanaka, free agent starting pitchers are slim pickings this offseason. They reportedly spoke with Bronson Arroyo last week, but nothing seems too serious.
It will be interesting to see how the Tanaka negotiations play out over the course of the month. If the Yankees are willing to take a chance, he could be a valuable piece of the Yankee puzzle, for this season and many more to come.