22 January 2014

Breaking down the New York Yankees' signing of Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka has himself a new home, and it will be in the Bronx. The great Ken Rosenthal broke news, Tanaka, the 25-year-old Japanese pitching sensation that numerous clubs had their eyes (and hearts) on, has signed with the New York Yankees on a seven year, $155 million deal with an opt-out clause after the fourth. Tanaka was the top pitcher in a thin market and one of the most hyped Japanese prospects in years, and he's landed with the team that perhaps needed him the most (both Chicago teams, the Dodgers and the Astros (!) were also involved as per Rosenthal.) Here's my analysis.

As expected, the new posting system for Japanese players worked to the benefit of Tanaka. The maximum posting fee was set at $20 million, and thus allowed the Yankees to break the bank unlike in the past, as when the Rangers posted $51.7 million for Yu Darvish, and signed him for $56 million over six years.

Speaking of Darvish, the conversation between who is the better pitcher among either is an interesting one. Darvish probably is the better pitcher, although there are some who think that Tanaka is actually superior, and he does not have Darvish's stuff (but there are not that many who do). That said, the Yankees are getting a guy with a 93 mph fastball and what Jonah Keri describes as nasty secondary stuff including his famed splitter.

But the Yankees are also getting a guy that, even at 25, has thrown a serious amount of innings, as is the norm for aces in Nippon Professional Baseball. And we know that while Japanese lineups are certainly not as deep as those in MLB, although they are better than they are given credit for. For a team as needy for pitching as New York is, the potential rewards are worth the risks.

We thought the Yankees were going to relatively conservative, at least by their standards, to stay below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, but that also came with the risk of potentially having the worst season in years for the franchise after Joe Girardi somehow cranked out 85 wins in 2013. They made themselves players earlier in filling key needs at catcher, by signing one of the best hitting catchers in the game in Brian McCann, albeit one with injury concerns, and in the outfield with the shrewd (and expensive) signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. But even then, this was probably not a playoff team and that's because of the pitching.

But Tanaka may just come in and be the best pitcher already. CC Sabathia's numbers have been on the decline, although there is hope considering he looks to be in great shape. Hiroki Kuroda was great in the first half of 2013, but fell off some after the All-Star break. Ivan Nova is solid. For a team that needed a boost in the rotation, Tanaka should be just that.

And yet, the Yankees are no postseason lock, and may still be behind Boston and Tampa Bay in the loaded AL East. But they may just be back after all.

Cover photo via AP Photo

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