7 Predictions for Masahiro Tanaka's MLB Career with Yankees

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IJanuary 22, 2014

7 Predictions for Masahiro Tanaka's MLB Career with Yankees

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    The New York Yankees have landed their man, reported Andrew Marchand of ESPN.

    For the grand total of $175 million (with the $20 million posting fee included), Masahiro Tanaka is headed to the Bronx, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    With the Tanaka sweepstakes complete, the real fun begins for both player and team. As seemingly half the league chased the 25-year-old Japanese right-handed star, visions of Tanaka transforming a rotation, dominating opposing batters and starring through his prime danced through the minds of respective front offices.

    After being awarded one of the largest pitching contracts in the history of the sport, pressure will accompany Tanaka to the U.S.

    How will he respond? Will the gigantic cash outlay equal the value Tanaka provides in New York? 

    Here are seven predictions for Tanaka's career with the New York Yankees. 

    *Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts

Quality, Not Dominance

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    Here is a complete list of pitchers in baseball history who have garnered a contract in excess of $150 million: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia. 

    Now, we can add Tanaka's name to that list. 

    As you undoubtedly remember, the 4-star aces that paved the way to riches for Tanaka all arrived to their pot of gold as stars, featuring a combination of durability and dominance. At the time of signing their respective deals, they featured the follow career ERA+ marks:

    • Kershaw: 146
    • Verlander: 128
    • Hernandez: 128 
    • Sabathia: 120

    The worst of the group, Sabathia, was 20 percent better than league average, durable and coming off a career year (156 ERA+) in 2008.

    The best of the group, Kershaw, is widely regarded as the best pitcher in the sport. He was in his prime and looking like the most dominant pitcher baseball has seen since Pedro Martinez's reign in the late '90s and early 2000s.

    In Japan, Tanaka fit that bill, but it's hard to imagine that type of dominance translating into one of the best in Major League Baseball. 

    Considering Tanaka's age, he's poised to carry his stuff and repertoire through the next few years, but the Yankees paid for quality, not dominance. Of course, with the way salaries are skyrocketing in the game, $20-plus million could soon be the cost of a No. 2 starter.

    If that's what Tanaka profiles as, the Yankees will likely be pleased; just don't think the team landed one of the very best pitchers in the sport.

Early Worry

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    The unknown is exciting and allows baseball fans to dream.

    While it's possible that Tanaka will take his 24-0 record to America, another possibility exists: $155 million of wasted money.

    To be fair, Tanaka looks like a much, much better prospect than former Yankees import Kei Igawa did, and he won't have the same type of hype that Hideki Irabu had when coming over from Japan in 1998. Baseball fans will have scouting reports and detailed breakdowns, so they'll know what to expect. Tanaka is good, but he's not Nolan Ryan 2.0.

    Of course, that won't let the early worry subside.

    If Tanaka struggles in spring training or early April, expect the New York media to inundate fans with comparisons to Igawa, Irabu or Red Sox disaster Daisuke Matsuzaka. 

    Considering the time Yankees scouts spent watching Tanaka last season, the volume of teams willing to go to great lengths to sign him and his performance in Japan, the worry will likely be overblown and Tanaka will find a way to succeed in America.

    That being said, don't be surprised if the city of New York is in a tizzy if its newest prize begins the season with a few rocky performances.

Opt-out Clause Exercised

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    For the next three seasons, Tanaka's future won't be in doubt. He'll be a key member of the New York Yankees' rotation, expected to contribute as a co-ace with Sabathia and provide 200-plus innings per season for manager Joe Girardi.

    During Tanaka's fourth season, however, his future in New York will be cloudy. Due to the opt-out clause in his seven-year deal, Tanaka will be able to bolt from New York for another dip into free agency.

    As Peter Gammons pointed out on Twitter, Tanaka can find his way back to the open market at the age of 30.

    The opt-out clause has become a popular contract perk for star pitchers signing with the Yankees in recent years. Sabathia, when inking a seven-year, $161 million deal after the 2008 season, had an opt-out included after year three of his deal. 

    After posting a 59-23 record, along with helping New York win a World Series, during his first three seasons in the Bronx, Sabathia was re-signed to a five-year, $122 million deal with hours to spare before the opt-out deadline.

    Expect a similar situation for Tanaka.

    If he excels in New York, riches will be available on the free-agent market at the age of 30. Unlike Sabathia, smart money says Tanaka will exercise the opt-out clause and create a fresh bidding war in 2018.

Endless Comparisons to Yu Darvish

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    Tanaka won't just have to live up to big expectations in New York, justify a $155 million deal and remind folks why he went 24-0 in Japan in 2013; he'll have to endure endless comparisons to Texas Rangers righty Yu Darvish.

    Darvish, the last big-name import to survive and thrive after making the jump from Japan, is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. Since arriving in Texas at the start of the 2012 season, the 27-year-old has dominated American League hitters by posting a 127 ERA+ and 11.2 K/9 over the first 401 innings of his career in America.

    Although often overlooked when fans talk about the best pitchers right now, Darvish owns the best K/9, seventh-best bWAR (9.7) and eighth-best ERA+ since the start of the 2012 season.

    When Tanaka takes the hill, comparisons to the best Japanese pitcher in the sport will be unavoidable, especially when debating which performer is more aesthetically pleasing for fans.

    As a strikeout pitcher, Darvish will generate chatter about dominant performances and flirtations with no-hitters on a monthly basis.

    After posting a 7.8 K/9 mark in Japan last year, Tanaka doesn't profile as that type of pitcher.

    If Darvish outperforms Tanaka in 2013, the schism between the two pitchers will only widen.

Career Workload Concerns

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    Young, star-level pitchers rarely hit the open market at the age of 25.

    Normally, major cash outlays are reserved for free-agent arms at the age of 28, 29 or 30. By that time, career workloads are gigantic, and concerns are plentiful for the back-end of free-agent contracts.

    But in the case of Tanaka, don't confuse age with limited workload.

    As Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and MLB Network pointed out, Tanaka threw a high amount of innings at the ages of 18, 19 and 20, clouding his future effectiveness and causing concern for a long-term deal.

    Verducci is spot on. During the three years that American pitchers are typically in college or on a throwing program in the minors, Tanaka logged 548.2 innings in Japan.

    To put that number in perspective, Kershaw—who's similar to Tanaka in both riches and age (25)threw a grand total of 328 innings for the Dodgers organization during those early years of his professional career.

    Similarly, Sabathia pitched 412.2 total innings for the Indians prior to his 21-year-old season.

    Of course, the game in Japan is different. Due to the way pitchers are trained, Tanaka's arm may not have the wear and tear we would normally associate with major workloads. Furthermore, Cody Derespina of Newsday pointed out that Darvish pitched only 47 fewer innings during his time in Japan.

    Regardless of your level of worry, expect the Yankees to acknowledge Tanaka's workload as the years go on. If he stays for the full seven-year deal, it wouldn't be shocking to see the team cut back his innings and curtail his offseason regimen in the future.

Brian Cashman's Legacy Finally Decided

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    Brian Cashman's legacy in New York is, well, complicated.

    Despite overseeing a franchise that has won four World Series championships—1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009—during his tenure as general manager, fans are quick to point out the money he's been afforded to spend and the mistakes (Carl Pavano, A.J. Burnett) he's made with that advantage.

    Furthermore, upon his promotion to GM in 1998, the highly successful executive inherited a roster with an abundance of homegrown superstars. From Derek Jeter to Andy Pettitte to Mariano Rivera to Jorge Posada, Cashman began his tenure with a championship core in place. All he had to do was fill in the blanks and not screw up a runaway train of winning.

    In the eyes of some, anyone could have accomplished what Cashman has in New York. While that's obviously ridiculous, what the long-tenured Yankee GM does after the "Core Four" departs will define his legacy in New York.

    With Jeter the only remaining member of Cashman's original Yankees, that day is coming. In preparation for future success, the Yankees have spent more than $400 million this winter on Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Tanaka.

    That quartet, led by the 30-or-younger duo of Ellsbury and Tanaka, will define success in the Bronx over the next four to seven years.

    If Cashman's "new" Yankees win a World Series, he'll have five rings—across three different decades—and an unparalleled record of success. With that, recognition will come from all facets of New York, from the Bronx to Cooperstown. 

    If the imports fail and the Yankees flop, Cashman will never emerge from the shadow of success that he inherited.

World Series Glory

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    Finally, we get to the only prediction that truly matters to Yankees fans.

    Over the course of Tanaka's reign in New York, expect the Yankees to capture a World Series championship and give the city a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan. 

    After missing out on the postseason in 2008, the Yankees went on a spending spree before roaring back to win 100-plus games in 2009 and capture a World Series title.

    Considering the presence of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, formidable Detroit Tigers, smart Tampa Bay Rays, powerhouse Texas Rangers, all-in Oakland Athletics, bounce-back and dangerous Los Angeles Angels and rising teams, such as the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles, it's hard to predict a World Series appearance in 2014.

    Yet if Tanaka is the pitcher he was signed to be, the Yankees stand a great chance to arrive back on the late-October scene soon. When they do, a World Series will be expected.

    Before Tanaka's career in pinstripes reaches its conclusion, a championship parade will commence.

    What are your predictions for Tanaka's career in New York?

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