Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka to the Yankees

It was almost inevitable. Do you remember what happened last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, in 2008? By those standards, this season's shopping spree is downright blasé.

So Masahiro Tanaka, the pride of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will pick up and move from Japan to New York - after signing one of the most lucrative contracts ever for a pitcher. This contract is par for the course for the Yankees, despite the relative unknown of how Tanaka will do against major league talent.

Currently twenty-five years old, Tanaka will be thirty-two (and ostensibly in his baseball prime) when the seven year deal runs out (or twenty-nine after the fourth year opt-out). If Tanaka remains a top of the rotation guy, the $22 million average annual value is legitimate.

But that's a pretty big "if." We've all heard the hype: Tanaka went 24-0 last season with an incredible 1.27 ERA in the Japanese League. He's averaged 25 starts per season, with a 2.30 ERA in since 2007. But he's pitched a total of 1315 innings since he started playing professionally when he was just eighteen years old.

We know that it's basically impossible to know how Japanese players will perform when entering Major League Baseball, and Red Sox fans are intimately familiar with the frustration that can happen when the honeymoon period is over.

But as tedious as it was to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka by the end of his deal, he went 33-15 during the first two years of his deal and helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. Matsuzaka clashed with Red Sox trainers and coaches about workouts and workloads - and it didn't end well.

Tanaka is just a year younger than Matsuzaka was when the latter came to Boston, and has pitched just about 80 fewer innings. The two have a similar build. Based on experiences with Matsuzaka (and the similarities between the two pitchers), I would imagine Tanaka will be a great performer for the Yankees for the first few years of his contract, but their training staff should be prepared to keep a close eye on him.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if this contract is a success or a flop for New York: as we saw this offseason (and as we've seen many times before), their front office motto might as well be, "If at first you don't succeed, buy, buy again."

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