There are undoubtedly many risks associated with signing a player from Nippon Professional Baseball, as the game there is so much different than the game we see here in North America. There is no telling whether or not a Japanese player will be able to adjust to Major League Baseball, and that uncertainty has caused many teams to shy away from bidding on Japanese players. However, despite some poor signings, the New York Yankees should still decide to be active on the Japanese market.
When you think about the Yankees and the Japanese market, especially recently, the first name that comes to mind is Kei Igawa. Now it’s no secret, Igawa was a total disaster. After spending over 46 million dollars on him, between both the bidding process and the actual contract, Igawa went 2-4 with a 6.66 ERA over a whopping total of 16 games in his two years with the Bombers.
Now obviously, having a player like Igawa on your team, doing nothing more than taking the money you’re giving him, is going to cause you to be wary about chasing Japanese players.
However, especially with the current condition of the Yankees and their pitching depth, perhaps Japan may be the best place to look.
For the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season, Tanaka boasts a minuscule ERA of 1.20 over 158 innings pitched. He has a fastball that can reach 96 mph, along with some secondary pitches that sit in the 80s with good movement. Scouts even say that he could step right into a team’s rotation and be a solid #2 starter, something which the Yankees may very well need after this season.
Oh, and I should also mention that he has gone 20-0 so far in NPB.
As of late, the Yankees’ pitching staff has had its fair share of struggles. CC Sabathia has looked awful all year, Hiroki Kuroda is coming back down to Earth after a tremendous few months, and Phil Hughes has been relegated to the bullpen while his successor David Huff hasn’t done much better. Having a pitcher like Tanaka could help this team out in the long run.
In fact, the 2014 rotation, as it stands now, appears to be shrouded in complete uncertainty. Pettitte could very well retire after this season, Kuroda may not return, and Hughes will likely leave in free agency. That leaves the team with Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps.
Not exactly the most dominant group of guys.
But put Tanaka in there, maybe along with another free agent pitcher or two, and the rotation wouldn’t look so bad.
So say what you want about Kei Igawa, but realize that Masahiro Tanaka is much different. The only reason the Yankees got Igawa in the first place was in response to the Boston Red Sox signing Daisuke Matsuzaka. In fact, it turns out that the Yankees never did their homework on Igawa in the first place (seriously, look it up).
With a lot of money coming off the books at the end of this season, and the status of the payroll plan constantly up in the air, the Yankees are in prime position to pounce on a big player. Why not make it Tanaka?