Masahiro Tanaka, who is the best Japanese pitcher since Yu Darvish, has officially been posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles as of Christmas day. As a result of the new posting agreement between the MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, that lowered the posting fee to a max of $20 million from the previous unlimited amount, the Rakuten Eagles had been going back and forth in the past few weeks on keeping or not keeping Tanaka.
All 30 MLB teams have been notified that the 30-day period to sign the 25-year-old right hander with a powerful arm began at 8 a.m. ET Thursday, according to MLB spokesman Michael Teevan. The MLB team that comes to terms with Tanaka will have to give the Rakuten Eagles $20 million based on the deal that was reached two weeks ago. This is much less than the more than $50 million that the Rangers paid for the rights to negotiate with Darvish.
This is great news for the Yankees and basically a Christmas present because they need another reliable starter to combine with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda. Since they signed Brian Roberts to play second base instead of the higher and longer contract that they would have had to give Omar Infante, it proves that they were banking on Tanaka being posted.
It has been known that Tanaka was the primary starting pitching target for Brian Cashman. He has said that he was not high on Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who have been the most high-profile free agent starting pitchers and played on the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians, respectively, last season.
On Wednesday, the Eagles president finally admitted that Tanaka deserves a chance to play in the majors. Last season Tanaka pitched an almost perfect season for the Golden Eagles. He had a 24-0 regular-season record with an outstanding 1.27 ERA. He has not had an ERA above 1.87 in any of his last three seasons. He pitches with outstanding control and pounds the strike zone with authority as he had 183 strikeouts and only 32 walks last season. In 2011, at age 22, he had statistically his best season with 19 wins, a 1.27 ERA, 241 strikeouts and only 19 walks.
There is a small chance that he could be a bust like the Yankees last Japanese import, Kei Igawa, but Tanaka’s three best seasons were much better than Igawa’s best three seasons in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers and scouts have said that he could be even better than Darvish has been for the Rangers. This past season, Darvish’s third in the MLB, he had 277 strikeouts, only 80 walks and a great 2.83 ERA.
The state of the Yankees rotation is currently questionable without Tanaka. Sabathia is coming off a season where he regressed from his previous ace status, Nova had a very good bounce-back season (3.10 ERA) after a sub-par 2012 campaign (5.10 ERA) and Kuroda followed up an outstanding first-half of the season with a second-half where he allowed five or more earned runs four times. His September ERA was 5.70 and his overall ERA was 3.31.
If the Yankees end up signing Tanaka like it seems like they will and he has a 3.00-3.40 ERA and a similar strikeout to walk ratio, and Sabathia pitches like he did in 2012 with increased weight and Kuroda pitches like he did in the first-half of last season, the rotation could go from a question mark to a reliable one. An adjustment period to new hitters in Major League Baseball is expected for Tanaka.
According to USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale, Tanaka will command an annual salary of at least $17 million. It would make sense if the Yankees offered him a six-year, $102 million contract (or even $108 million). The Yankees need to make sure he knows that he is needed.