By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, JANUARY 23- Two days before the deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a major league team or return to his club in Japan, the New York Yankees announced the signing of the Japanese pitcher. Thus, they won the big sweepstakes of the 2014 pre-season with this signing. Several teams including the Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Diamondbacks were making a strong effort to sign the 25- year-old Japanese right handed hurler.
Although the young pitcher has yet to throw a pitch in MLB, he signed the fifth highest contract for a pitcher in the history of the majors. He was given $155 million for seven years with an opt-out clause after the fourth year in 2017. As the team that signed Tanaka, the Yankees will also have to pay the $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
Tanaka began playing organized baseball as a little leaguer in his native country. He was a highly touted pitcher in high school before joining the Golden Eagles at the age of 18.
He immediately lived up to expectations as he was elected Rookie of the Year in 2007.
Tanaka won 99 while dropping only 35 decisions in seven seasons in the Pacific League with an ERA of 2.30. He fanned 1,236 batters in 1,315 innings in 175 games. Unlike recent MLB stats, the righty completed 53 of his 172 starts. His strikeout/walk ratio is a startling 4.5-1 (1,236/275).
His most recent three seasons were played at an even higher level of performance. He was 53-9 with a miniscule ERA of 1.44. Last year, he had a perfect 24-0 mark.
The 25 year-old has pitched against international competition in the 2008 Olympics and in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) 2009 and 2013.
Obtaining the services of Tanaka has been a goal of the Yankees. The retirement of Andy Pettitte and the decision not to sign Phil Hughes left the team short two starters. The farm system of the Yankees has few, if any, pitchers who could make the jump to the majors and keep the team in the hunt for the championship. Tanaka will join Sabathia, Kuroda, and Nova in the rotation with a fifth starter, perhaps Pineda or Phelps, to be decided in Spring Training.
The Yankee ownership has, judging by the signings of McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran and Tanaka, shown dissatisfaction with an 85-win season in which they finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in the last 19 seasons.
Although keeping this year’s salary below $189 million has been an organization goal, managing partner Hal Steinbrenner, at the press conferences for the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, made it clear having a championship caliber team was the paramount objective. A Wednesday afternoon conference call, the Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman, remarked that these signings are proof that Hank and Hal Steinbrenner are very serious regarding raising the franchise to a level where they can compete for the World Series title.
Why the Yankees desired to obtain the services of Tanaka is much more obvious than why he chose the Yankees. There may be many reasons why he chose the Yankees, playing in New York City, having experienced players from his homeland like Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki as teammates, having his songstress wife, Mai Stoda, further here career in the international city, or receiving a call from former Yankee Hideki Matsui of his favorable experiences as a Yankee. The reasoning may be revealed at his first press conference as a Yankee.