Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tanakaing at the Door

           The Yankees put the cherry on top in what was a very busy, and expensive, off-season by signing the big ticket free agent from Japan, Masahiro Tanaka, to add to the starting rotation.

            Competing against the likes of the Dodgers and the Cubs; the Yanks had to push the envelope on the 5-year deal most experts predicted Tanaka would receive and go 7 years for $155 million. In addition to that, the Yanks had to pay $20 million to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (say that five times fast) simply for the rights to negotiate with him. It's the largest payout for a free agent who has yet to throw a Major League pitch, but with his 24-0 record last year and string of 30 consecutive starts without a loss, and the fact a small handful of other teams were looking to sign him, Hal Steinbrenner gave GM Brian Cashman the thumbs up to make the deal. Even former-Yankee Hideki Matsui got into the mix and called up Tanaka in a recruiting effort for the Bombers.

           Rarely does a 25-year old with his wide-renowned talents become available on the open market, so a 7-year deal in this instance isn't a bad move whereas in the past with other Japanese imports - the ages were more in the 30-34 range. Instead of going $10-$15 million per season on the likes of Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, who are middle of road pitchers; for an extra $10 million the Yanks have the chance to put a legitimate stud at the top of the rotation with a low to high 90's fastball and a curveball and splitter which all scouts have given rave reviews. Personality-wise Tanaka has gained the reputation of a battler and being highly competitive; something the rotation has lost with Pettitte's retirement and Sabathia's evaporated velocity. Now the rotation has an entirely new outlook which will only benefit the other members by relieving alot of the pressure.

Projected Rotation:

1. Sabathia - Should have a better 2014 after finally realizing the 95 mph days are gone.
2. Tanaka - Will have some small bumps in the road during the transition, but 24-0 isn't a fluke.
3. Kuroda - Last season's real "ace" should be just as effective, but Girardi has to shorten his innings leash.
4. Nova - Each start will be less "microscoped" and hopefully he can progress with all eyes on Tanaka.
5. Help Wanted - David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, amongst others will compete for the spot.


           The Yankees definitely went above and beyond the call to duty during this winter by spending big money on McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran (the result of losing Cano), and now Tanaka. The yearly suspension of Alex Rodriguez that will salvage $25 million from the Yankees' 2014 payroll probably played a huge part in bringing Tanaka in, so perhaps A-Rod did something positive to contribute to the ballclub this season. Having a scrappy better-than-mediocre team in 2013 hurt the Yankees with attendance and YES ratings, plus not making the playoffs is sacrilege for the organization, so they've certainly doubled-down to make sure they go back to being "The Yankees" in 2014. Early interest in Tanaka's performances will draw international media attention, boost YES ratings, and most importantly, fill up the $500 seats.

            The Tanaka move is also another great way for the Yankees to rub salt into the Mets eternal wounds as this was supposed to be the Mets "big off-season" after the likes of Johan Santana and Jason Bay came off the books. The Mets highlights this winter was Curtis Granderson, who the Yankees didn't want anymore, and Bartolo Colon, who can't fit inside an airplane bathroom.

            Alex Rodriguez seems to have finally come to grips that he won't be playing in 2014 and has shifted the rhetoric to coming back strong for 2015. He currently has a lawsuit against the MLB Players Union, which has many members discussing they want him kicked out of, so basically his only ally left is his lawyer who he's paying millions to. The intrigue and excitement of seeing Tanaka pitch in pinstripes has allowed the attention to divert away from A-Rod so he can spend 2014 in Saddham's spider-hole while the rest of the team gets back to playing winning baseball.

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           There's still the bullpen to be concerned about with David Robertson and Matt Thornton the only brand names to be counted on, plus alot of 2014 rides on the healthy returns of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but there are shades of 2009 when Cashman brought in many big names that eventually led to their latest World Championship.

            The addition of Tanaka's salary officially does away with the $189 million payroll goal the Yanks were hammering about the past two years, but then that reveals that letting Cano go really had nothing to do with that. The Yankees grossly overpaid for Ellsbury, went two years extra to convince Tanaka to come, gave a 3-year deal to 36 year-old Carlos Beltran, but the same front office wouldn't budge from the $175 million mark they offered to Cano - a proven talent in his prime and very likely en route to Cooperstown as the best all-around 2nd baseman of this era. During last season there were media leaks that Cano's name was linked to PED use in the Dominican Republic, a report that turned out to be false. Even if that story wasn't true, there seems to be some reason the Yankees were all too comfortable with letting him walk.

            Either way, the Yankees winter scores an 'A'.........