The Tanaka chase is finally over (USAT)
It's been a pretty good winter for the Yankees and their Monopoly set, all things considered. The Bombers couldn't convince Robinson Cano to hang around, but GM Brian Cashman has done well with other major targets. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have already been fitted for pinstripes, taken their grip-and-grin photos.
And now we make way for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the latest New York acquisition. The 25-year-old Japanese ace agreed to a seven-year, $155 million package on Wednesday. The deal cost New York $175 million when you factor the $20 million posting fee, and it includes a fourth-year opt-out clause for the right-hander.
Ironically, this was the same sack of money amount offered to Cano. The Yankees aren't taking this no-playoff thing lying down.
Fantasy owners don't have the same Yankee advantages, of course. We're working with a fixed budget for player acquisition. If we guess wrong on a target, it leaves more of a mark.
With that in mind, let's start the roto guessing on Tanaka. How do we approach him as a 2014 fantasy commodity?
Many Japanese starting pitchers have had success in the states - Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma wave hello. Of course there have been hit-and-miss guys (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and some outright flops (Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa). Some might balk at comparing Tanaka to other Japanese signees, but remember we're comparing contexts as well - Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball. There's no perfect way to do this, but for back-of-envelope purposes, it will have to do.
Tanaka's build (6-2, 205 pounds) and repertoire (fastball, splitter, slider) remind you of Kuroda, but his dominant numbers force the Darvish comp (albeit Darvish is three inches taller, 20 pounds thicker, and a unique article in his own right). Tanaka and Darvish also spent the same amount of time pitching in Japan, which demands a quick look at the tote board (thanks, Baseball-Reference):
Is Tanaka a better immediate prospect now than Darvish was two years ago? I won't go that far, though some will give Tanaka the nod. The ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate favor Darvish. Tanaka wins the control and K/BB battle. Both pitchers emphatically pass the eye test - Darvish is basically the Bugs Bunny of the AL, hellacious stuff, and Tanaka also does well on the scouting film.
Now let's match up some of the previous Japanese imports - how they fared overseas compared to their initial season in America:
Darvish, Iwakuma and Matsuzaka all showed significant roto gains in their second MLB season (albeit Dice-K did it with mirrors). Kuroda was primed for a gain if not for an injury. Nomo's debut season was his best. We're talking about a small sample, of course, but perhaps the sophomore spikes could be tied to the cultural adjustment process. Every player is different, of course.
Every fantasy pundit is different, too. I've seen some scribes pushing Tanaka into the 20s on their pitching board, while others slot him outside the 40s. I did a quick survey of the Yahooligans and it sounds like we'll have him in the mid-30s (here's my current ranking). Cautious optimism, at least in the first season.
Had Tanaka signed with a National League club, we'd certainly be more intrigued. You know how the field is sloped, gamers. Four of the five AL East ballparks offer notable scoring floats. Yankee Stadium's profile cannot be ignored: over the last three years, it's helped runs by seven percent, homers by 19 percent and left-handed homers by 27 percent (oddly, lefties didn't do great in NY last year - but that's probably a stone fluke).
The backing Yankees roster offsets some of the park concerns: while this isn't a juggernaut on paper, it's certainly a team set up to contend. We can't say that about the Cubs, say. While pitcher wins are forever riddled with flukes, you want to link up with quality teams whenever possible.
The real draft season is still a few weeks away. I'm not dug in on my Tanaka take because I'm really not tied to anything right now. But my gut feel is this: I doubt he'll be on any of my 2014 fake teams. I'm not the kind of guy who chases the Shiny New Toy at the table, and I suspect someone will want him more than I do in my pools.
Nonetheless, I'm thrilled he's finally arrived (the signing will also trigger more free agent movement), and I can't wait to see him pitch. Darvish and Iwakuma were a blast to own last year. Maybe Tanaka will be, too. The sparkling resume from Japan certainly gets your attention.
Get out your pricing gun and share your thoughts in the comments.
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