“Hello! My name is Masahiro Tanaka. I am very happy to be a Yankee.” That was what Tanaka said in English to open his press conference at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. He will likely be the No. 3 starter, following CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, after signing seven-year, $155 million contract on Jan. 22.
After having under a 2.00 ERA in each of the past three seasons for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, the Yankees will need Tanaka to have a successful season in his first season. The Yankees are counting on him having an ERA in the low to mid 3.00 range and picking up about 15 wins. Tanaka, who is 25, had a remarkable 1.27 ERA last season and struck out 183 batters while only allowing 32 walks. An adjustment period is expected during April, based on the new hitters, new mound and new ball, but he should be able to have success based on how Bobby Valentine and others have supported him.
In order to get to his press conference in the Bronx, he paid $195,000 to rent a 787 Dreamliner for himself, his pop star wife, his toy poodle and few others in his entourage to get to JFK Airport in style. It took him more than eight hours to get from where he lives in Japan to Naruta Airport based on snowy conditions. He needed such a big plane for not many people apparently because there were not many at the airport. His grand entrance into NYC definitely lives up to his $155 million contract.
There were 200 reporters at the press conference. This was the largest press conference that the Yankees have had for a new player since Hideki Matsui’s in 2003. This is partly because of all of the Japanese media that were in attendance.
The rest of what Tanaka told the media was through his interpreter. Tanaka’s number one goal with the Yankees is to win the world championship. He first came to NYC in high school, and Tanaka remarked that it was very cloudy. He said that there is a lot of sunshine this time so he has a good impression of New York. When he first came to New York he notably ate sushi that he bought at a grocery store nearby.
Tanaka would not comment if another team offered more money. This caused Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Randy Levine to smile in approval. He wanted to pitch in the MLB to see where he could get to with his ability. He looks forward to exploring and learning more about NYC. He liked the draw of the rich history and tradition of the Yankees. He is used to the spotlight based on pitching in the World Baseball Classic as well in important games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Cashman thought it helped that the Yankees had been on TV so much in Japan because of Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. The Yankees have scouted Tanaka since 2007. Tanaka added that when he spoke to Matsui before signing with the Yankees, he didn’t tell him much, but said that New York is a great city.
Matsui, who is still involved with the team and lives in NYC most of the year, Ichiro and especially Kuroda, should be able to help Tanaka with his transition. Kuroda, who is a pitcher who has pitched well in his first two seasons with the Yankees, and had ERAs between 3.07 and 3.76 in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be able to help him with his adjustment to pitching with the Yankees and to MLB hitters. He will also be able to help him adjust the constant media scrutiny.