The New York Yankees finished the 2013 season with a record of 85-77, which was good for fourth place in the American League East.
Thanks in large part to injuries and old age, New York missed the playoffs for only the second time in the Wild Card Era. Last time they missed the playoffs, we watched as the organization went on a spending spree of over $400 million.
That spree resulted in the production needed to win an unprecedented 27th World Championship the next season.
Things are not quite the same in New York this year, however, owner Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear that the team will look to stay under the $189 million payroll. At the same time, he knows winning is everything in New York, so he may have to swallow the substantial luxury tax in order to field a contending team.
There are many holes to fill on this team, and the main priority this offseason should be acquiring a solid starting pitcher.
Enter Masahiro Tanaka.
The 25-year-old from Japan has played seven professional seasons there, compiling a record of 99-35. This season, he was as close to perfect as one can get, going 24-0 with an ERA of 1.27. He had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.72, which would have edged out David Price for best in the league had he done this in Major League Baseball.
With young age and tremendous baseball knowledge, this kid is worth the gamble.
The Yankees need stability in a rotation that currently consists of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Adam Warren.
A former ace, Sabathia has encountered elbow problems leading to a fairly significant drop in velocity. If he wants to be one bit as effective as he has been for the majority of his career, he will have to learn to pitch with more control than power.
Nova has been a streaky pitcher, showing glimpses of greatness for the Yankees. However, he has yet to put it together for a complete season, so he is no guarantee either.
Phelps and Warren are both very young, and Michael Pineda has not even thrown a pitch for the Yankees yet. Pineda, who New York acquired in a trade with Seattle for Jesus Montero, has run into both shoulder and weight issues which has prevented him from seeing playing time.
If Sabathia, Nova and Pineda are all healthy, the Yankees will have a promising rotation going into the season. Adding Masahiro Tanaka would bolster the rotation and put New York back into contention in the American League East.
While the Yankees have wasted money on Japanese talent in the past such as Kei Igawa, the organization should remember what they got when they signed Chien Ming Wang. For two seasons, Wang was the ace of that pitching staff, until an injury while running the bases proved to be detrimental to his career.
Furthermore, the Yankees also signed position player Hideki Matsui a decade ago, and he was one of the most successful Yankees of the last twenty years.
So, the question to ask Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner is, “Why not?” Why not go after a guy who has proven to be an ace in Japan, especially when you consider there are not many options within the States and free agency?
Pitching wins ballgames, and the Yankees need a spark to its rotation badly. For a team that is looking to gain youth again, this would be one giant leap in the process.
While Tanaka will not come at a cheap price, the Yankees must pursue him if they want to have a strong enough rotation to contend in the American League East in 2014.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference