1. THIS WAS A SIGNING THE YANKEES HAD TO MAKE
In an off season where the Yankees are clearly pushing for the playoffs in 2014, they needed to make this signing. Signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are not the actions of a team resting on their laurels.
They needed an ace pitcher and Tanaka could very well be that pitcher. If it works out, then this will be a terrific signing.
2. NOBODY REALLY KNOWS WHO THE YANKEES JUST SIGNED
Put your scouting reports and stats in your backpocket. There have been stars who came over from Japan and there have been disasters, and figuring out which will be which is a crap shoot.
Obviously Yu Darvish is the pitcher every Yankee fan hopes Tanaka will emulate. Darvish is a Cy Young contender and anchors a solid Texas team. There have been other Japanese imports who made their mark in America.
Hideo Nomo had a few terrific seasons (and a pair of no hitters to boot.) Ichiro Suzuki is a Hall of Famer. Hideki Matsui is a beloved World Series hero. So is Koji Uehara. Hideki Okajima helped the Red Sox win a World Series. Tadahito Iguchi started for the World Champion White Sox. Hiroki Kuroda has pitched well for the Dodgers and Yankees.
Then there is the other side of the coin.
The late Hideki Irabu was billed as the next Nolan Ryan and was a disaster. Tsuyoshi Wada never pitched in the majors. Kosuke Fukudome was supposed to be an All Star hitter and flopped. Kaz Ishii bombed badly.
And Kei Igawa was one of the biggest free agent flops in history.
This is not like the Sabathia signing or the Dodgers signing Greinke. This is an acquisition whose result has a huge gray area.
3. YANKEES SHOULD BE HAPPY IF HE PRODUCES LIKE DAISUKE MATSUZAKA
You will notice I left out “Dice-K” when I listed the heralded Japanese stars above. That was not an omission.
Matsuzaka has become the poster child for the dangers of posting fees and hyping players from Japan.
He was supposed to be the great pitching star who would revolutionize durability in America and be a huge drawing card and a Boston sports hero.
Instead he got hurt, pitched some of the slowest and most boring games anyone has ever seen and received the scorn of Sox fans. His final four seasons he was injured and ineffective and a waste of a lot of money.
But remember his first two seasons were not terrible. In 2007, the 26 year old Matsuzaka gave the Red Sox 204 2/3 innings, striking out 201 batters. Both of those marks led the team. He was hardly an ace but was the pitcher of record in Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 3 of the World Series (where he drove in a pair of runs.)
Do the Red Sox finish 2 games ahead of the Yankees for the Division in 2007 without Dice-K? Do they win the World Series? Maybe not.
In 2008, he had a better season and picked up the slack for a disappointing Josh Beckett. He went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and had the lowest hits per nine innings in the league. The Red Sox got to Game 7 of the ALCS.
The short term of the deal was contribution to a World Series title. If Tanaka can help deliver title #28 to the Bronx, an expensive back end to the deal will be worth it.
4. SPEAKING OF THE RED SOX, I BETTER NOT HEAR ANY OF THEIR FANS COMPLAIN
The Red Sox are the defending champs with a fertile farm system and a history of spending big. Things are good in Boston. Don’t whine.
5. THE PRESSURE IS NOW ON SABATHIA TO BOUNCE BACK
The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, 2008, they broke the bank to sign a big time pitcher still in his 20’s.
CC Sabathia delivered big time. He pitched the Yankees to the World Series title and has been one of the greatest free agent pick ups in baseball history.
But he took a step back in 2012, falling out of Cy Young contention.
And in 2013, his numbers took an alarming drop. He was still good for 211 innings and 14 wins. But his ERA skyrocketed to a mediocre 4.78. His strikeout total dipped and he led the league in earned runs allowed. There was nothing “Ace like” about him. He will be 33 years old in 2014 and maybe his weight and averaging 213 1/3 innings over 13 seasons could be catching up with him.
It takes more than one pitcher to win. Pitching depth is the key in today’s game. Even if Tanaka is a Cy Young candidate, it won’t do any good for the Yankees unless Sabathia also returns to form.
If he does, the Yankees have a 1-2 punch that could be enough to win.
6. THE BEST THING GOING FOR THE YANKEES IS A WIDE OPEN AMERICAN LEAGUE
There is no powerhouse in the American League. Not the Yankees. Not the Tigers. Not the Defending World Champion Boston Red Sox. (I love saying that.)
Unlike the National League who have a few terrific teams and a lot of lousy ones, there are very few AL clubs without at least an outside chance.
The Astros and Twins both look pretty bad. But every other club could win if a few things broke their way. While that means there are not as many weak clubs to pad the win column with, there are also fewer teams that should dominate a series.
90 wins is probably enough to take a playoff spot and the Red Sox and Tigers could very well take a step back in 2014. Oddly, parity will help the Yankees of all teams.
7. I AM STILL SURPRISED THAT TANAKA DID NOT GO TO THE DODGERS
The Dodgers have big money and a huge media market. Los Angeles has a huge Japanese population and are closer to a pennant than the Yankees. And he would essentially be the #3 starter behind Kershaw and Grienke.
L.A. seemed like the perfect fit.
But alas, this is not about fit. This is about money and the Yankees outbid everyone.
8. ALL BRIAN CASHMAN CAN DO IS SPEND THE STEINBRENNER’S MONEY
Remember when Brian Cashman took control of the team away from the Tampa office in 2006?
He was going to rebuild the team through the farm system and use the great Yankee resources to keep a good young team together. The team was going to be built upon the likes of Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.
That was a disaster and the team missed the 2008 playoffs. The Steinbrenners opened their wallet and in came Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira as free agents and Nick Swisher as a salary dump from the White Sox. They won it all in 2009.
After that, there was talk of building from the farm, getting younger and getting below the tax threshold.
That was another disaster with the Yankees missing the playoffs as an old fading team with no relief from a barren farm system.
The result? Spend more money.
Some teams can fill in holes from within. The Yankees can not because their farm system is a mess.
Some teams can fill in holes with trades. The Yankees can not as their trade track record recently has been spotty at best and there is nobody left on the farm to deal.
If the Yankees had developed some pitchers, infielders and one of the 50,000 catchers that have been hyped panned out, then maybe they wouldn’t have to reenact The Wolf of Wall Street every few off seasons.
But they can’t because of the old and injury prone teams Cashman has assembled and the worthless farm system developing under his watch.
Remind me why he is considered to be a good GM again.
9. THE YANKEES HAD BETTER START DEVELOPING THEIR OWN ACES
Have you noticed that teams that have legit aces are not letting them hit free agency?
Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, Matt Cain, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are all locked up. Jon Lester won’t be far behind.
And if Max Scherzer and David Price can’t sign extensions, they will be dealt to teams with ready for the majors prospects (which the Yankees don’t have) and will probably sign long term deals.
Signing the likes of Tanaka is the only way to put a #1 in the rotation short of developing one through the farm system.
10. THE YANKEES CAN BE HOPEFUL BUT THEIR LINEUP ISSUES ARE STILL THERE
Pitching wins titles and if Tanaka and Sabathia and Kuroda pitch well, they will be in good shape. That does not change the fact that their lineup is old and injury prone. Letting Cano go and seeing A-Rod out for the year means the infield is one giant question mark after another.
Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann make for a nice core of the lineup. Then again, if any of them slump or gets hurt, their offense will be tracing paper thin.
That’s where the pitching comes in and why the Yankees had to make this deal.
11. CONSPIRACY THEORISTS WILL TIE THE SIGNING TO ALEX RODRIGUEZ
A-Rod gets dumped for the season, freeing up money for the Yankees. The Yankees then outbid everyone for Tanaka and the biggest team with the largest following (and the biggest villain) winds up catching the fish everyone wanted.
Some coincidence, eh? The Yankees lose their superstars and drawing cards get a brand new one.
The bad press surrounding A-Rod off the field is distracted by the arrival of a new superstar.
One event after the other. Wouldn’t it make sense that big league baseball would want this to happen?
Actually, come to think of it, it kind of does. Wait until A-Rod hears about it. He will treat it as truth.
12. NOW MATT GARZA, BRONSON ARROYO AND UBALDO JIMENEZ CAN GET ON WITH THEIR LIVES
Almost every team can use a starting pitcher and lots of big hypothetical numbers have been thrown around before Tanaka landed with the Yankees.
Well guess what, Rangers, Dodgers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Angels and White Sox? You can still sign a pitcher! And for a hell of a lot less than Tanaka.
Sure, none of these guys are exactly aces any more. But one thing you can say about them is that you have a much better idea of how they will pitch in the big leagues.
Teams like the Angels, Mariners and White Sox who already have an ace could do worse than these guys to be a #2 guy.
The Orioles and Diamondbacks, teams with talented arms but no big veteran anchor, might see one of these arms as the steady veteran.
Either way, they were all in a holding pattern waiting for a conclusion in the Tanaka sweepstakes. Well it is over. These are the consolation prizes and they are not bad ones at that!
13. THE CARDINALS ARE STILL THE TEAM TO BEAT AND EMULATE
With all the big moves and signings and people changing uniforms, the team that looks the strongest going into 2014 remains the defending NL Champs.
The Cardinals are younger, deeper in the pitching staff, have more depth and athleticism in the lineup and have the playoff chops.
Remember, the goal is not winning the winter but winning in the fall.
For the last 10 seasons, no team has celebrated like the Cardinals (7 playoff appearances, 6 NLCS, 4 pennants, 2 titles.) And 2014 looks no different.
They have the combination of youth and veteran experience, post season pedigree, tradition and patience that the Yankees used to have.
I am sure they are looking at all the feeding frenzy of this off season with amusement, knowing that when the champagne pops and the World Series is lined up, they will be one of last two standing.
14. TANAKA SHOULD GO ONLY BY HIS LAST NAME
The Yankees already have Ichiro, the original one name Japanese star. Why not make it two?
Besides, I was originally going to suggest he has a nickname. But simply going by “TANAKA” sounds more bad ass.
Now all he has to be is as good as advertised and the Yankees will be good shape.