So unless you’ve been under an NFL-sized rock today, the big news story in the MLB world is where the young Japanese phenom pitcher Masahiro Tanaka chose to play for his MLB debut. With Jeter’s agent representing him and Tanaka’s idol Matsui’s encouragement, it was only a matter of time before Tanaka declared his allegiance to the Yankees.
This means, as MLB writer Richard Justice put it, the Yankees are “back in business”. Blowing away that $189 million luxury-tax threshold “goal, not a mandate” with today’s signing, the Yankees have pulled a little George Steinbrenner-ness today (and through the off-season) creating what should be a winning team. And honestly, when you look at the new signings combined with those left on that roster, there is a lot of reason to hope for Bronx Baseball this October. Tanaka’s addition just cements what the Yankees seemed dead-set on doing, even before that last game in September.
The Yankees offered Tanaka $155 million over the next 7 years to play in pinstripes, with an opt-out clause after the 4th year. This means that stellar arm, we in America have only seen in small clips and imagined about from rumors, could be throwing his cavalcade of strike-out pitches through the 2021 season, where the now-25-year-old will be in his early 30’s and looking for another medium-term contract (like the 4 years they usually offer players in their early 30’s).
While much is being said by the fan bases of the teams who were supposedly “outbid” (Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, and Diamondbacks) about his lack of experience in the MLB seems foolish to offer such a contract to an “untested” player, I have to look at his NPB (Japanese equivalent) record to compare — 99-35 win-loss record, 2.30 ERA, 1238 strikeouts, part of the Japanese Series championship team (2013), 5 time NPB All-Star, and 2007 Rookie of the Year. And some have questioned the pressure of playing in such a large market like New York, but Tanaka is a celebrity in Japan, handling himself with the same class we’ve grown to respect from fellow countrymen and Yankees players like Matsui and Ichiro.
And in case you were wondering about the 40-man roster count (of course you weren’t, but I’m at capacity with information today thanks to my Twitter feed that seriously needed cooling off once an hour due to all the Tanaka-news), the Yankees designated relief pitcher David Huff for assignment to make room for Tanaka. And while this may seem like a loss in a bullpen that still needs to be molded a bit more, this is great news and timing for pitchers like Huff. The free agent pitching market has been on hold while Tanaka was deciding his course because the teams with the losing bids still wanted a shot at some of the great free agents left on the market. Once that handful of starters go, the remaining guys, predominantly relievers, will be divided up and pieced into the puzzle that are the bullpens across Major League Baseball.
I guess, as the dust settles with this announcement today, I’m left thinking about how my (perhaps naively) optimistic hope for 2014 back in October seems almost oddly prophetic and very smart today. Maybe I just never forgot that this is George’s team, this is the Boss’ team, and to believe, even at any point in the process, that it wasn’t, was borderline heresy for a Yankees fan. The legacy of the man who knew you had to spend big to win, the image of whom looms above the right field bleachers and watches every action and inaction, the spirit and drive to create a legendary dynasty — he showed up today, and I have to think he might just be a little bit proud of his boys.