The New York Yankees have wrapped up the sweepstakes for Masahiro Tanaka by signing the Japanese starting pitcher to a seven-year contract. They officially announced the deal on Wednesday afternoon:
Updates From Thursday, Feb. 6
David Lennon of Newsday has the latest on Tanaka:
Reports from Japan say Tanaka received visa on Feb. 4 and could leave for States as early as Sunday. Also had 36-pitch workout Thu #yankees— David Lennon (@DPLennon) February 6, 2014
Updates from Friday, Jan. 24
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal announced the trade of David Huff to the Giants for cash, a move that clears space for Tanaka on the 40-man roster:
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal was the first to break the news, including the reported salary:
BREAKING: Tanaka to #Yankees, seven years, $155M, opt-out after fourth year.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 22, 2014
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports noted an important clause in the deal:
Tanaka received a full no-trade. #yankees— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 22, 2014
Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner offered some choice words for those who doubted his team, via Sweeny Murti of WFAN in New York:
“Anybody that questioned our commitment to winning is going to have to question themselves,” Hank Steinbrenner to AP.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) January 22, 2014
Fellow co-owner Hal Steinbrenner provided his reasoning behind signing Tanaka and exceeding the luxury-tax threshold, via Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
“I have been saying for well over a year now that it makes sense to meet [the $189 million threshold], but not at the expense of a championship-caliber team,” Steinbrenner told The Post by phone. “I felt we needed another starter. We were not where we needed to be, in my opinion. So this should not be a surprise because [Tanaka] was the best free-agent pitcher available. He is one of the greatest players Japan has ever produced. He is tough. He has thrived under pressure. He will fit in well to New York.”
“Market value is what one or more teams are willing to pay today,” Steinbrenner said. “He is one of the best players Japan has produced and he has played well on the big stage in big games. I think he will be great for our organization and will do very, very well.
“But, honestly, I don’t feel that [the Yankees would have spent an unlimited amount] for any player, as we showed earlier this offseason [with Robinson Cano]. That is not good for the family, our partners or the organization. There was a limit of what we were willing to do, but, yes, I felt it was important to get him.”
Tanaka talked about his decision on Thursday, according to ESPN:
Masahiro Tanaka says he chose to play for the New York Yankees because they appreciated him the most among the many teams who were chasing the prized signature of the star Japanese pitcher.
"They gave me the highest evaluation and are a world-famous team." Tanaka said at a news conference in Japan on Thursday after agreeing to a $155 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees.
Tanaka said he was "relieved" the deal was done and looked forward to standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium.
When asked what his goal will be, Tanaka's response was direct: "To become world champions."
Asked to deliver a message to Yankee fans in English, Tanaka said he plans to let his performance on the field do the talking.
"I don't speak English, so I'll just have to win the trust and confidence of the fans with my performance on the field," the 25-year-old right-hander said.
MLB.com's Bryan Hoch added Derek Jeter's thoughts on the signing:
Richard Justice of MLB.com provided insight into the Yankees' pursuit to improve this offseason:
Yankees spending spree $465 million, including $438M for Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, Tanaka. Another $16M for Kuroda. Adds up, doesn't it?— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) January 22, 2014
Bleacher Report's Zachary Rymer brought up the money the Yankees saved through Alex Rodriguez's suspension to help put the deal in context:
Baseball-Reference says the #Yankees are saving $22,131,148 in 2014 with A-Rod's suspension. Tanaka's AAV: $22,142,857.— Zachary D. Rymer (@zachrymer) January 22, 2014
To put the deal into further perspective, ESPN's Jayson Stark provided historical context surrounding Tanaka's contract:
Tanaka's $155M deal is 5th largest ever by a pitcher, behind Kershaw (7-$210), Verlander (7-$180) , Felix (7-$175) & CC's original (8-$160)— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 22, 2014
Tanaka is coming off an extraordinary season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. He went 24-0 with a microscopic 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. He tossed eight complete games, including two shutouts, while striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings.
Even in an era of advanced statistics where the value of wins is on the decline for starting pitchers, coming out on top in 24 of 28 appearances is an incredible feat.
Tanaka started pitching in Japan's top league when he was 18. Now 25, he holds a career 2.30 ERA through 175 career games, three of which came in relief.
He completed 53 of his 172 regular-season starts (31 percent), which is unheard of in MLB. The importance of pitch counts and situational relievers has been on the rise in recent years; Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals led the league with just five complete games in 2013.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild offered his take on Tanaka's "stuff" and what makes him so successful, via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:
Larry Rothschild scouting Tanaka: "He's fastball, slider, split, throws a cutter and shows arm strength. He showed tenacity on the mound."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) January 22, 2014
On Dec. 17, Tanaka expressed his desire to play baseball in the majors, courtesy of the Associated Press via ESPN.com: "I informed my team that I would like them to allow me to test my abilities in Major League Baseball next season."
There was a concern that Tanaka might not get posted, but a week after he issued that statement, the Golden Eagles ultimately decided to do so, via Ben Badler of Baseball America:
There's a new top pitcher on the market. The Rakuten Eagles will let Masahiro Tanaka pitch in MLB next season: http://t.co/9to9uWjHJa— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) December 25, 2013
Now that Tanaka has a home in Major League Baseball, the biggest question will be how his style of pitching translates to America. It's always a mystery how foreign players will respond to the talent level of MLB, but Tanaka's peripheral numbers bode well for his chances.
What type of pitcher will Tanaka be in MLB?
When you compare his stats to those of Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu, two pitchers who had successful arrivals to the majors after pitching in Japan and Korea, respectively, he measures up favorably.
Tanaka's career strikeout rate is slightly lower than Darvish's and Ryu's from when they pitched overseas, but only by a fraction. He more than makes up for it with his strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.5), which is far better than that of Darvish (3.75) and Ryu (3.35).
Given Tanaka's abilities, it is no wonder there was an intense bidding war for his services, as documented by Phil Rogers of MLB.com:
How serious were Cubs about Tanaka? Deadly serious. Haven't confirmed this but the word is they went to $150 million. Likely runner-up.— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) January 22, 2014
While the numbers suggest he will make a relatively smooth transition, there are always intangible factors that make the jump a little more difficult than numbers on paper would suggest.
With that said, Tanaka's recent success suggests he will be provide a worthwhile return on the Yankees' big-time investment.