Masahiro Tanaka and the quest for 2014 pitching

Yankees should seek late-season bullpen help
It's official: Yankees moving radio broadcasts to WFAN in 2014
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Mike has kept us informed on the Masahiro Tanaka front over the past few weeks. At this point, it certainly seems as though the team is doing its due diligence and is at least showing some degree of interest, though who knows if it’ll materialize into anything in the offseason. The Yankees have sent their assistant GM, Billy Eppler, along with special assignment scout (and former Mariners manager/Blue Jays bench coach/MLB player), Don Wakamatsu, to go and check him out. I’m sure New York has a bevy of other scouts who have followed Tanaka’s career as well. Whether the team should pursue Tanaka is a difficult question, but one worth asking. Let’s take a look.

Does Tanaka satisfy a need?

Obviously, the Yankees have a lot of question marks surrounding the 2014 rotation. Who knows whether CC Sabathia can become a solid pitcher again, nevermind a top of the rotation arm. Who knows if Andy Pettitte or Hiroki Kuroda plan on returning. Hell, who knows what Ivan Nova really is at this point. David Phelps and Michael Pineda provide zero certainty as well. Phil Hughes will almost certainly be gone. Can the team promote from within sufficiently? Well, they can try, but color me unconvinced.

Point is, the Yankees need pitching heading into next season in a big way. Now the skeptic could rightfully ask, does it make sense to replace so many question marks with another question mark? To that I would reply: probably, since scouts seem to agree that Tanaka is MLB ready and capable of producing positively. Additionally, every potential pitcher replacement has some degree of inherent risk, so perhaps what we really should be asking is whether Tanaka is more of a question mark than some of the alternatives (i.e. Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum), and I don’t think that he necessarily is. As an aside, even after the presumably exorbitant posting fee and subsequent contract are offered, I’d still have to wonder if he would be a cheaper alternative than a “proven guy” like Matt Garza (who may not even be available anyway), which of course would be desirable if the $189M payroll is still the objective.

Does free agency offer anyone better?

With the exception of Matt Garza, the 2014 free agent crop of starting pitchers is pretty wanting. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez is available and maybe you can make the argument that he’s more desirable at this point (he’s pitched great for the Indians since the All-Star break and his strikeout rates are heading back in the right direction). I’m not sure I’m sold on Ubaldo though (admittedly, I’ve never been his biggest fan). You can bet Jon Lester will have his club option picked up. Ditto for James Shields. Halladay will be 37 years old with some major health concerns. I guess there’s Tim Lincecum if you believe that ship can be righted (though as I insinuated above, I think both he and Halladay have major red flags). I suppose Dan Haren (33) is an option too, though I have my doubts about his health and skill set (talk about home run prone!). We talk about assuming risk. Well, prepare to assume a fair amount with all these guys.

Will Tanaka’s skill set hold up in the Majors?

That’s the key question, isn’t it? I’ll defer you to Mike’s scouting report from the other day for the details, but to put it succinctly, if Tanaka can become a number two type of arm at the MLB level immediately — which is apparently the consensus among scouts at this point – he’d be a major boost to any team, including New York. Is he Yu Darvish? No. Will he ever be? Probably not. Should that matter? I don’t think so. Most pitchers don’t wind up being one of the league’s best. Above average pitchers still have a lot of value though, and we’ve seen what happens to the bullpen (and record, ultimately) when one guy pitches great but is followed by a bunch of poor starts.

Are the Yankees leery of signing pitchers from Japan?

Unfortunately for Yankee fans, we’re all aware of this perception. Once upon a time, the Red Sox signed a supposed hot-shot pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka, while the Yankees paid a ton of cash for notable “other guy,” Kei Igawa. Obviously, neither contract worked out, though it’s clear that the Yanks hired the bigger bust. Then Darvish came along with impressive stuff. Everyone knew about the hype. The Rangers blew all the other organizations away with their bid while the Yankees posted a very conservative offer that was basically expected to fall short from the start. Apparently, this was partially due to the team’s experience with Igawa. So, here we are. The Rangers have a certifiable ace on their hands. The Yankees have a reputation of being scared of players from Japan (whether it’s justifiable or not). To wit, the Yanks also posted a conservative bid for Hyun-Jin Ryu ( though he was coming from South Korea).

I would hope the team could look at these players independently, and then assess whether they can be successful at the big league level. Avoiding talent because Igawa didn’t work out would not only be myopic, but just plain dumb. This needs to be a case-by-case decision. If Tanaka is MLB capable, he should be considered accordingly, period. If this is a question of Yankees scouting misreading talent (relative to their competition), that’s an entirely different problem and one that should be addressed immediately. That all said, I think there may be some degree of truth to the theory that the organization is worried about being burnt by an aggressive bid for one of these guys after the Igawa fiasco.

How much will Tanaka cost?

Total cop out answer: it depends, really. It’s a closed auction, so things have a tendency to get out of control pretty quickly. The Rangers won the Darvish bid at $51.7M. The Sox bid approximately $51.1M for the rights to talk with Dice-K. Last season, Ryu’s posting bid was roughly $25.7M. Tanaka is presumably not as good as Darvish, so maybe he winds up costing less. On the other hand, maybe teams are desperate for pitching and see him as someone at least comparable to Ryu, or maybe they even consider him more of a “sure thing” than Ryu. If I had to guess, I’d say the winning bid is about $40M.

From there, you then get to talk about player contracts. Darvish received a six-year, $56M contract which includes a player opt-out clause after the fifth year. It was a lot of money, but I think at this point, the Rangers are probably considering the contract a success in terms of production provided relative to the cost (at least so far). The Sox offered a six-year, $52M deal to Dice-K, which was a disaster. Ryu was also given a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $36M by the Dodgers. I suspect Tanaka will wind up closer to Darvish’s end of the spectrum than Ryu’s though. That means probably six years at approximately $7-8M per. In any event, when you consider what Garza will probably get, I think that a guy like Tanaka might make a ton of sense.

Yankees should seek late-season bullpen help
It's official: Yankees moving radio broadcasts to WFAN in 2014
  • Robinson Tilapia

    Part of the answer here may lie in the previous post. The team may simply rather pay in posting fee than it does in salary going into next season.

    Is this guy worth it? I have no clue. If they say he’s a consensus top-to-mid rotation guy, the Yanks are potentially losing both guys who fit that role, AND their ace is starting to become a question mark, he sure looks more attractive in that role than, say, a Scotty Feldman or whoever else is a pending FA.

    If the team decides to pursue this guy, I’m certainly fine with it.

    Now feel free to go through the usual bullshit on international players below.

    • Frank Costanza

      Do you have a stepladder to help you down off that incredibly high horse or do you get ballsy and jump it?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I think this guy has a crush on me. Jim, are you there? What do you think?

        • Pat D

          I’m not Jim, but I’ve lost count as to how many people around here seem to have a certain “fondness” for you.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Gift and a curse, Pat. Gift and a curse.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          Definitely a crush. Soon he’ll be pushing you down on the playground and kicking dirt on you.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          And definitely don’t wear pigtails.

          • Betty Lizard

            I had pigtails. I can attest that it’s a living hell.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              I heard Russell likes to pull on pigtails.

      • Pat D

        Just say his name three times and he disappears. Trust me, it’ll work.

  • YankeeParrothead

    The Yanks shoudl remember their other Japanese import (thought Not a pitcher) Hideki Matsui turned out quite well. Even Wang pitched well until he got injured runnign the bases

    • Bo Knows

      Wang isn’t Japanese, he’s Taiwanese

      • YankeeParrothead

        I didn’t say Wang was Japanes, I said Matsui was. But Wang was another import form one of the Asioan leagues. That part was in response to the article comment talking about the Yanks reluctance with Ryu who is also not Japanese

  • YankeeParrothead

    Mu point being that they shodl take each player on a case by case basis.

  • Electric Nunez ll

    “This says you are from the Tanaka clan? You don’t look like a Tanaka.”
    “Shidoshi Tanaka train me.”

    Tanaka paid off for JCVD and he will for the Yanks. My logic makes about as much sense as some of the other comments on here, so what the hey, here’s my 2 cents for the posting fee…

  • Leg-End

    They need to do everything they can to keep Kuroda around. It may not even be an issue but if we have an experienced Japanese player around with advice to hand out it could make Tanaka’s transition that much easier.

    • mike

      Ichiro – he of the un-tradeable contract and un-watchable offensive production – says hi :)

    • I’m One

      And besides, since they’re countrymen, Tanaka would have a friend on the team. (Ichiro too.)

      Seriously, if the scouting reports are correct, it seems it would make more sense to pay the posting fee and attempt to keep the salary lower. If they can get him for $8 or 9M/yr, who is available for that price on the FA market? Would they be (potenitally) as good? I’d say, take a shot at him. It could pay off big time on a 5 or 6 year deal (or be a total bust).

      • Nick

        I’m sure you get what he’s trying to say… Kuroda is one of the most successful pitchers ever to make the Japan-MLB transition. Plenty of guys have tried and failed. He’s not suggesting that Kuroda would be there to be Tanaka’s “drinking buddy”. If you have a guy who has managed to successfully avoid the pitfalls that come with a new league, ball size and pitching schedule, his advice could be extremely valuable.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I can’t even begin to think about not having Kuroda around next year. It’s too painful to even consider.

  • toad

    Virtually all pitchers are question marks. That’s why you need a lot of them.

    They are high-variance players so all you can do is hope that you have enough guys to smooth that out, or else have some luck.

  • Scott

    Wang is/was not Japanese.

  • Kosmo

    Tanaka´s last 3 seasons have been spooky great. If NY can land him and resign Kuroda then NY will have :
    on paper that´s a formidable 4.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Sign Garza and we’ve got a full rotation of guys with last names ending in “A.” Has that ever happened before?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Or don’t sign Garza and hope Pineda is healed up. Hell, there’s always Big Game Dave Phelpsa.

    • mike

      sounds like what baseball would be if we lost the war

      • dkidd

        i laughed out loud

  • Frank

    The tough decision I see for the Yanks is deciding whether they should surrender their draft pick to sign someone like Garza, for example, especially if they lose 10-12 of their last 18, wind up with 82-84 wins and drafting in the teens, as opposed to perhaps the low to mid-20’s if they manage to win 90 games.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting & Defense & Baserunning

      They wouldn’t have to lose a draft pick to sign Garza, since he was traded during the season, and isn’t eligible for a qualifying offer.

  • Tony

    What are the luxury tax ramifications?

    If the posting fee is not counted as a tax & if you can sign him for 7-8 Mil – then I would say he would help the Yankees on the field & in the quest to be below 189.

  • LarryM Fl

    The Yankees need everything but pitching is always key. CC and Nova are the only guarantee pitchers returning in the rotation. Sure we have a bunch of guys returning from one injury or another Phelps or Pineda with Warren in the wings. Since you must be able to go 7 or 8 deep to survive the season. There will be trades and signings, no doubt.

    The bullpen is pretty well stocked. I’m not so sure about Robertson just too many pitches to get out of an inning. It may keep him out of back to back games. But unless a trade is made. He seems like the logical choice.

    Arod and Jeter have situations which make them big question marks for the 2014 season. Scissor hands will be crazy to watch on a day to day but might come around with steady play if he can stay on the field.

    Cano will be signed and back. The OF will may get Granderson on a full time basis for at least a year along with Gardner, Ichiro, Soriano and Wells. Some we like and some we do not.

    Catching has some numbers to play with but none jump out and hit you as starting quality at this time. But Romine, Cervelli may surprise us. There is no surprise in Stewart.

    Infield looks iffy on the right side. So Cashman and the boys have much work to do. It will be busy in the off season. You would think.

    I would not be shy to sign Tanaka if the brain trust believes he is ready. The front office and Cashman have to work together. This may be the problem in 2014.

  • Bubba

    The posting process is beyond idiotic. Pay 10s of millions of dollars for the opportunity to give 10s of millions of dollars to a player with significant question marks. Oh and that first chunk of millions could be a gross overpay (much like the Rangers with Darvish).

  • CashmanNinja

    As of now I’m actually in favor of signing Tanaka. He fills a need, but there’s another important thing. He’d actually be cheaper than what’s available on the free agent market.

    The bid doesn’t count towards the payroll, so if it takes $30-35 mil to get him, then look at what Yu Darvish got (6/60). Tanaka isn’t nearly as good as Darvish so figure maybe he could get $8 mil a year. 6/$48 would count against the cap. It’s a risk, but one that should be made considering that Garza will get more than $50 mil. Pitching is premium and there’s just no way to get someone at that much of a discount. It’s worth the gamble.

  • dkidd

    thinking too hard about next year is a recipe for depression

    we need best-case scenarios from nova, phelps and pineda (or substitute best-case tanaka), and that’s assuming cc returns to captain crunch form

  • Dars

    Yankees need two starting pitchers. Pettite needs to retire and I would not count on another season like this one with Kuroda when he is 39 and probably will want more money.

    I would go after Garza and then after a cheaper reclamation project like Josh Johnson or Dan Haren.

    Rotation would be:
    Sabathia, Garza, Nova, Pineda, Johnson/Haren with Phelps, Nuno and another lesser reclamation like Ted Lilly or Colby Lewis as additional depth.

    With Kuroda, Hughes and Pettite gone you have close to $35 million to spread around coming off the books. $15 M to Garza, $5 with incentives to Johnson or Haren and $3 with incentives to Lilly or Lewis and still $12 M in savings…

  • Gehrig27

    There´s another BIG reason to go after Tanaka that should be mentioned…He is only 24 years old…

  • Jason

    I think Tanaka should be considered very seriously. His makeup and stuff are pretty impressive, and he’s 24 years old. Sure, it will cost a pretty penny but what other pitchers that young are going to be available any time soon? Are we going to pay Kuroda and Pettite $30 million next year combined and “hope” for the best? At least he fills a spot, every 5 days. Even if we sign him for 5-6 years his contract will END when he is 29-30. I think if we are going to hope for someone it should be Pineda, who’s also 24. Maybe consider a guy like Halladay for a back of rotation spot. His strength seems to be returning, and a 1 year incentive-laden deal cannot hurt. He was a beast in the AL East. And if Jon Lester is available I say go after that guy as well. Another Legit lefty. We’ll pay a lot, yes. But someone will. And i’d love to steal him from Boston. He will be a FA, and I hope boston doesn’t lock him up long-term before 2014.

    I say thanks and good luck to Hughes and Joba. Consider someone like Grant Balfour to pair up with D-Rob in the late innings. And start developing 1-2 of our young guys at the maJor league level, instead of in the minors.

    On a non-pitching note, lets make a qualifying offer to Granderson. If he declines and signs elsewhere, we get a 2nd pick in 1st round. 2 years in a row with more than 1 pick in rd. 1 hasn’t happened for us in a LONG TIME. Take advantage of a deeper draft next year.

    Offer Cano a strong but not an insane contract. If someone blows him away, let them pay for 4 good years of a 8-10 year deal. At that point i’d consider re-signing brendan Ryan and moving him to 2N

  • Jason

    2nd base. Thats a 3rd pick in round 1 for us. I’d go hard after Asdrubal CaBrera for SS-heter needs to be replaced immediately. We cannot hang on to our old legacy guys and watch solid, young players go to other teams. He is young, a great SS and a solid offensive player. Him and Ryan would be an insane double play combo. I’d also try to re-sign Mark Reynolds for 2014, and maybe 2015 as well. He can play 3B with AROD Likely missing the season to suspension. And with Tiexiera back at full health, we have a complete infield. He can also back Tex up at 1B when he DH’s, and we can play Vernon Wells at 3B when Reynolds plays 1B. We have him for 2014, and that also gives our top pick Eric Jaguelo another season to develop aNd get ready to take over 3B for the future. We don’t need to give Chase HeAdley 100 million, we have our own 22 year old version.

    Moving to the Outfield, I’d re-sign Gardner to play CF. 4 years/30 mil or so. This should have been done a few years ago. We can’t wait for these guys to price themselves super high so we can either overpay them or lose them to another team and watch them play well. If Granderson stays, we have out LF’er– if not, Hunter Pence or Sin-Soo-Choo would fit nicely in LF. Ichiro is still here and I think he plays RF, while we call up Zoilo Almonte or one of our other young OF prospects to back up all positions. Eduardo Nunez will back up all IF positions.

    2B-Cano–if he goes then : Brendan Ryan(or Omar Infante/Jhony Peralta)
    SS-Asdrubal Cabrera
    3B-Mark Reynolds
    Backup Infielder(EduArdo Nunez/Vernon Wells)
    LF–grAnderson–if he goes then: Pence/Choo
    RF–Ichiro/minor league prospect
    Back up LF/RF–Vernon Wells/minor league prospect

    Unless there is an OF’er we can sign to a 1-2 yr deal to play/back up all positions, we need to give our young guys a shot at some point.

    Rotation: Sabathia/Tanaka/Nova/Halladay/Phelps(imagine slipping in Jon Lester into the #2)

    Bullpen: Logan, Kelley, Robertson, Montgomery, Balfour, Cabral, Claiborne, 1-2 new guys

    We are a lot younger now, and more aggressive/hungry. The Red Sox, Tigers, A’s were the same way and now that many of their young guys had a chance to develop, they have a solid young core which will be haRd to beat in the AL. We can’t give up on young kids if they don’t perform like studs right away. And yes, we can rebuild–even though we are the Yankees.