Our good friend Jeff Passan wrote last night that, if re-signing Robinson Cano is the Yankees No. 1 priority, then “securing the rights to Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka is No. 1a.” Passan paints a pretty clear picture of the Yankees motivation to win the Tanaka bidding — and add an additional starter as well — but let me add this:
Aside from the fact that he could be a giant disappointment, there’s really nothing for the Yankees not to like about Tanaka. He fits both the Yankees needs, desires and philosophy. There’s no such thing as a sure thing — especially when it comes to a player who’s never played in the big leagues — but Tanaka makes too much sense to be ignored.
1. He’s 25 years old. Even with no big league experience, Tanaka would — without a doubt — move immediately into the starting rotation. He could very easily be the youngest member of their Opening Day roster next season, and signing him wouldn’t cost a draft pick. Youth movement!
2. He’s a starting pitcher. Brian Cashman always says that starting pitching is the “key to the kingdom,” so investment in a young starter would fit with his philosophy. Also, if you haven’t noticed, the Yankees lost three-fifths of their rotation to free agency and/or retirement. Plugging holes!
3. He’s expensive in the right way. Hal Steinbrenner is willing to spend — Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki; who else wants an unnecessarily large contract? — he’s just not willing to give other teams his money. Tanaka will require a significant contract, but the extremely expensive part of acquiring him will be a posting fee that doesn’t count toward the $189 million goal. Working around the luxury tax!
4. He’s available. Or at least, he will be, and good young starters are hitting the open market less and less these days. Already this winter, the Giants have given Tim Lincecum a big new contract to keep him off the market (despite his recent struggles) and Ervin Santana is said to be seeking $100 million as one of the market’s better starting pitchers (despite a so-so career). There’s risk in a Tanaka deal, but that seems to be true of any free agent starter these days. Risk-reward!
5. He’s a big name. I don’t think this is a huge deal, but I’m not sure it’s a non-issue either. The Yankees front office is well aware that the fan base thinks the team is being cheap and cutting corners. Tanaka is a good opportunity to adjust that perception with a potent acquisition. Brand building!
Will the Yankees win the bidding? Honestly, at this point, we don’t even know how the bidding is going to work. But certainly the Yankees seem motivated to make a strong push. It simply makes too much sense to do otherwise.
Associated Press photo