Since rumors began that Masahiro Tanaka could be coming to Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees have been linked to the 25-year-old Japanese phenom, and rightfully so.
With just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, the Yankees only have three spots in their rotation filled by C.C Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. Tanaka, the most high profile Japanese import since Yu Darvish, has been deemed a “can’t miss” but many and seems to be the perfect fit for the Yanks.
Unfortunately, it may not be such a unanimous decision in the organization. According to a recent report in the New York Post, one official has his doubts.
“Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here,” one official said to the Post. “We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.”
The anonymous official has a point, as many Japanese imports have come to America and failed. The Yankees know that all too well with Hideki Irabu in the 90’s and Kei Igawa a few years ago. But despite doubts, there’s no reason the Yankees should not go all out for Tanaka.
To begin, there is no comparing Tanaka with the likes of Irabu and Igawa. Irabu had already logged more seasons in Japan than Tanaka and was a marginal pitcher for a few years there before putting it all together. Even at his best, Irabu’s ERA, WHIP and other peripherals weren’t near what Tanaka has achieved in Japan. Same goes for Igawa, who was never even in the same league as Irabu, let alone Tanaka.
Their failures in the past with dabbling in the Japanese pitcher market scared them away from Darvish, which is a mistake they are paying for now. Darvish has dazzled in the majors and shown no signs of slowing down. Had the Yankees signed him, who knows how far they would’ve gone the past two years.
But they didn’t, and that’s a mistake they can’t make again. Does Tanaka have the “stuff” that Darvish has? No. And he hasn’t put up quite the numbers in Japan that Darvish did, either. But the Yankees don’t need Tanaka to be the next Darvish. They just need him to be what he is, and that’s the best pitcher on the market right now.
Tanaka features a nasty splitter much like that of current Yankee Kuroda, along with a 90’s fastball that can reach the mid-90’s if he needs to. Even though his “stuff” doesn’t match that of Darvish, it has been good enough to rack up an impressive 8.5 strikeouts per nine in his career in Japan.
The market should be set with Tanaka, who has more upside and potential than even the best free agent pitcher out there right now, Matt Garza. And after Garza, there’s a drop-off in talent to the likes of Ervin Santana and the highly risky Ubaldo Jimenez. After that, the term “dumpster diving” would apply to the rest of the market, with all due respect to Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Gavin Floyd and the rest.
If the Yankees miss the boat on Tanaka, they will find themselves in a hole that may be tough to dig out of. Sure the risks are there, as with any player. Given the team’s pitching situation, everyone in the Yankees organization should be all-in on what they hope is the next big thing.