The New York Yankees have been waiting for this current offseason for well over a year. Moves such as allowing outfielder Nick Swisher to walk away, replacing injured stars with retreads, and settling for bottom barrel prices cost the Yankees a playoff berth in 2013, but it was all leading up to this moment. The team has been waiting patiently on whether or not Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka is going to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his current him.
It has been seven weeks since the last out was made to end the World Series–one in which their most hated rival, the Boston Red Sox won. That can’t sit well with Yankees’ brass, nor the fanbase. Out the door were Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and of course, Robinson Cano. That is a ton of money coming off the payroll for a team that rarely has shown restraint in handing out contracts.
Just about as fast as those contracts expired, general manager Brian Cashman began handing out new deals, for better players in some respect. In came Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and some smaller parts. The re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda cannot be overstated enough, given the fact the Yankees have signed exactly zero starting pitchers from free agency. The team has waited, showed restraint and waited some more. All in the hopes that their off-season plan can be executed–at least about 90 percent of it. Nobody thought for one minute when last season ended that Cano would take more money to go to a perennial loser. It happened, and the Yankees quietly are grateful for the gesture. A team can never replace a Cano, but it gives the Yankees the ability to make their run, and overpay one more time for Tanaka. The question Yankees fans should be asking themselves though, should be “Is he really worth it?”
Several teams believe Tanaka is the second coming of Texas Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish, but some scouts don’t necessarily agree with that assessment:
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Tanaka throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph. Even though Tanaka can reach the mid-90s, his fastball is the pitch that gives some scouts pause because it comes in on a flat plane, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest. Tanaka has two secondary pitches that have earned grades of 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, including a 70 splitter with late downward action to keep hitters off his fastball. His low- to mid-80s slider is another plus weapon, while he’ll mix in a curveball as well.~Baseball America’s Ben Badler
That alone should give teams pause, and make them think about handing out upwards of $100 million dollars to someone who could easily be Daisuke Matzusaka rather than Darvish. The only Japanese pitcher who has performed to expectation in the Bronx, has been the aforementioned Kuroda, and he proved his worth with the Los Angeles Dodgers before the Yankees signed him. Remember the names Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa? Irabu was once referred to as the Japanese Nolan Ryan. We know how well that turned out, and Igawa has received enough ink in this piece already. The Yankees scouting department has had difficulty building a solid minor league system under Cashman’s watch, so it wouldn’t be a great jump to think that their international scouting department is much better.
While Tanaka probably isn’t as bad as Irabu or Igawa, we can’t believe he is Darvish either. Perhaps he’s just a notch below. Is he an ace? The Yankees won’t know until if and when he posts, and they get the rights to negotiate with him. The Yankees have basically put all of their eggs in one basket, betting that Tanaka is more Darvish than he is Mastzuzaka. If they had out $100 million dollars to an unknown commodity, and he fails miserably, it could and should cost Brian Cashman and his entire staff their jobs. Cashman is not Gene Michael, and he is not even Bob Watson.
While the rest of the big name free agent starting pitchers, the MLB Player’s Association, and agents throughout baseball hold their collective breath, the only way things are going to move forward this offseason is when the announcement of Tanaka finally comes. If teams begin to get antsy, and sign a Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Ervin Santana before the Tanaka announcement is made, the Yankees may have just cost themselves the chance to return to respectability and to make a run at one final championship before Derek Jeter calls it a career. The Yankees are not only betting their present, but their future as well that Masahiro Tanaka can slide in between C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, and give the Yankees a powerful starting rotation once more. If he doesn’t pan out, this decision could set the franchise back at least half a decade.