Update: Yankees have sent top evaluators to scout Masahiro Tanaka

September 2nd: Assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu both scouted Tanaka last week, report Mark Hale and George King. The Yankees have seen most of the right-hander’s starts this year. Seems like the team is really doing its homework after literally not knowing what pitches Kei Igawa threw after signing him.

August 21st: Via Ben Badler: The Yankees and Rangers have sent their top evaluators to scout Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka recently. Other clubs have watched him as well. We first heard New York had interest in Tanaka, who is expected to be posted after the season, back in May. Balder says MLB and NPB are discussing changes to the posting system — including placing a hard cap on the posting fee — but nothing is final.

Tanaka, 24, has a 1.20 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 158 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., and is said to sit in the low-90s with a fastball that touches 96. Badler says scouts have some concern because he doesn’t get good plane on the pitch and it’s more hittable than the velocity suggests. Tanaka also throws a low-80s slider and a mid-80s splitter, like many Asian pitchers. He has been one of the league’s best pitchers for years now. Here’s video.

Tanaka is not as good as Yu Darvish, but Badler says “scouts project (him) as a potential No. 2 starter who can immediately step into a Major League rotation.” The Yankees have been very shy when it comes to bidding on big money international free agents after getting burned by Kei Igawa, but they could always change their approach at a moment’s notice. They will need some starters going forward, that’s for sure. The posting fee doesn’t count against the luxury tax either, just the actual player contract.

Cafardo: Yankees among teams interested in Masahiro Tanaka

Via Nick Cafardo: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Danny Knobler recently reported the Rakuten Golden Eagles are expected to make their ace available via the posting system following this season.

Tanaka, 24, has pitched to a 2.08 ERA with a 45/9 K/BB in 52 innings across seven starts this year. Since the start of the 2010 season, he owns a 1.57 ERA with 9.1 K/9 (25.6 K%) and 2.0 BB/9 (3.1 BB%). One scout told Knobler that Tanaka has “a wipeout split-finger fastball” and “a good slider” to go with solid velocity, though it’s unclear if he can remain a starter long-term. He has missed time with shoulder issues (strains and inflammation, mostly) over the years.

The Yankees have shunned the Japanese pitching market since the Kei Igawa fiasco, and Brian Cashman explained why in a recent interview with Index Universe. They’re concerned about difference in pitching routines as well as the cultural adjustment. Tanaka is not Yu Darvish and frankly he’s not even Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he’s still someone worth keeping an eye on over the next several months. The Yankees can’t ignore Japanese pitchers forever.