This winter’s best available starting pitcher might not be Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. It might very well be a 24-year-old Japanese right-hander named Masahiro Tanaka. If you haven’t heard that name — and at this point, that would be a little bit surprising — be prepared to hear a lot about him in the next few weeks and months.
I know Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler has been to Japan this year, and today brought a report that the Yankees are expected to be serious bidders if and when Tanaka is posted. It would be a bold leap back into the extremely high-dollar international market, but it would also come at a time when the Yankees badly need advanced pitching, and at a time when front-line starters seem to be growing more and more difficult to find on the free agent market.
Tanaka’s Japanese team is in the postseason, he’s wrapping up a remarkable year, and frankly, he’s been pretty remarkable for a few years now. He’s drawn comparisons to Yu Darvish, and his split-finger gets over-the-top reviews, including in this scouting report from Baseball America.
There’s an abundance of uncertainty when it comes to a pitcher like this. The process of signing him involves some guesswork, and there’s no perfect way to figure out how his stuff will translate to the big leagues, but Tanaka is good. That much seems universally accepted. If the Yankees get seriously involved, they won’t be alone.
Someone is going to pay a lot of money to sign Tanaka, and someone is going thrust him directly into a Major League rotation. It just might be the Yankees.