It’s tough to even think about the 2014-15 offseason, especially when the New York Yankees’ newest import has yet to toe the slab in a spring training game let alone a regular season or playoff game. Masahiro Tanaka arrived in the Bronx to much fanfare and through a handful of bullpen sessions in Tampa, has impressed both his teammates and the Yankees coaching staff. For 7-years and $155 million dollars, the Yankees hope to squeeze every bit of greatness that Tanaka can muster in his new surroundings while adjusting to big league hitters, a new travel schedule, and a new pitching schedule.
While it’s nice to think about the Yankees starting rotation having some young arms in their midst with Tanaka, Ivan Nova, and any combination of Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Manny Banuelos, and even Adam Warren, the front part of the rotation is on the wrong side of 30. Staff ace, and I use that term loosely until he earns that distinction back, C.C. Sabathia will turn 34-years-old in July. The Yankees #2 starter, Hiroki Kuroda just turned 39 and is most likely in his final big league season.
It can never be too early to start planning for the future, and if the Yankees need to go back to the starting pitching well next offseason, there are a couple of options who might be available for posting from Japan. The first is Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda. The soon-to-be 26-year-old has a career record of 71-50 with a 2.41 ERA in six professional seasons in Japan. Maeda is under Hiroshima’s control for the next four seasons, but like Tanaka, could formally request the opportunity to be posted and see how he fares at the Major League level. Maeda has been compared to current Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who was primarily a starting pitcher during his time in Japan. Maeda throws consistent strikes, and isn’t afraid to use any of his pitches in any type of count.
The other name to take note of is Yomiuri Giants’ righty Tomoyuki Sugano, who has but one professional season under his belt. The 24-year-old in his debut season in 2013, went 13-6 with a 3.12 ERA and 155 Ks in 176 innings pitched. The 6’0″, 194 lb. youngster faced off against Tanaka twice in the Japan Series, losing the first match up after hurling 5 shutout innings. In the second match up, he bested Tanaka for his only loss of the entire season. According to Baseball Reference, his fastball has topped out at 97.5 mph.
Both of these options should be on the back of Brian Cashman’s mind, especially if none of the fifth starter candidates pan out in 2014, and Hiroki Kuroda decides to retire at season’s end. The best available free agent pitcher on next year’s market is Max Scherzer, and there is no guarantee he hits the market. The Yankees farm system is thin on big league-ready pitching. If Tanaka has initial success in the United States, the Yankees could return to the Japanese pitching market if one or both of these young starters become available.