The Yankees need Tanaka in order to contend in 2014.
The New York Yankees have been on a shopping spree this winter, committing $300 million in new contracts to players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, among others, as well as re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Derek Jeter.
What's notable in its absence is that the Yankees have failed to address their biggest area of need this offseason—the pitching staff. Other than re-signing the excellent Kuroda to another one-year deal, New York has been surprisingly slow when it comes to addressing the team's many pitching needs while focusing almost entirely on the offense to this point.
New York's offense scored only 650 runs in 2013, more than 200 runs fewer than the world champion Boston Red Sox. For a team that prided itself on its offensive stars like Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, it was a startling fall for the franchise and a sign of things to come.
It seems New York has now focused all of its attention on Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, having already made contact with the pitcher's agent, Casey Close, according to Newsday's Marc Carig.
Tanaka represents everything New York needs and lacks right now—star power, potential and youth. The 25-year-old Tanaka would be the bridge on the Yankees staff, transitioning it from older Yankees groups to a newer generation.
New York has many holes to fill on the 2014 pitching staff due to the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. The Yankees have also lost starter Phil Hughes and reliever Joba Chamberlain to free agency. Both Hughes and Chamberlain were once projected as the future of the Yankees pitching staff. Now both players will find themselves trying to salvage their careers in the AL Central.
What remains of the Yankees pitching staff is in a constant state of transition and potential decline. CC Sabathia comes saddled with serious signs of decline and a minimum remaining $76 million on his contract through 2016.
Sabathia had a career-high ERA of 4.78 in 2013 with the highest WHIP of his career at 1.37. Sabathia takes the ball every fifth day and is a workhorse in every way imaginable. He may simply be showing signs of pitching 200-plus innings in each of the past seven seasons.
The downside to Kuroda is that he will turn 39 before he even throws a pitch in 2014, and he has shown signs of fatigue over the past two seasons. Kuroda has been a model of consistency for the Yankees, posting virtually identical numbers during his two seasons in New York.
Ivan Nova has been something of an enigma over the past three seasons, but he finally seemed to find himself last season, giving the team a 9-6 record with a 3.10 ERA while pitching out of the Yankees rotation.
He finally started to resemble the pitcher who burst onto the scene in 2011 and posted a 16-4 record with the Yankees. The 26-year-old Nova is a crucial piece to the Yankees pitching staff moving forward.
Looking at the Yankees' immediate landscape, Tanaka is a crucial potential piece to the team's future. New York needs to add a high-end starter who could potentially supplant Sabathia as the team's ace and give it the type of performance that Yu Darvish has given the Texas Rangers since his posting.
The amount that the Yankees have spent this winter won't mean much if they don't seriously address the pitching staff, whether it is making a full-court press for Tanaka or making a push toward Matt Garza, a veteran of the AL East.
Plenty of closer options remain on the market, allowing New York to protect David Robertson in the bullpen. New York could bring in a veteran like Fernando Rodney or Grant Balfour to augment the back end of the bullpen.
Adding quality pitching is the way to get the Yankees back on top of the AL East. So far, the Yankees seemed to have forgotten that fact.