Masahito Tanaka is about to become a rich young man once MLB sorts out the details of its new posting system for international players. With good reason, too. The 25-year-old right-hander is one of the most dominant pitching prospects anywhere in the world, and according to most scouts will be viewed as the top pitcher on the free agent market.
Tanaka has done nothing to diminish his reputation with his performance in 2013. In fact, he's been so good, he's been essentially perfect, carrying a record-breaking 30-start unbeaten streak into Saturday's Japan Series start for the Rekuten Golden Eagles. With a victory, the Golden Eagles would have clinched the series in six games and Tanaka would have finished the season perfect. Unfortunately, though, the streak came to a disappointing end in their 4-2 loss to the Yomiuri Giants.
It wasn't a disastrous outing by any means. Tanaka allowed four runs on 12 hits, while striking out seven and walking one in a complete game loss. It's his fourth complete game in five postseason starts, which is impressive, but perhaps most notable to MLB teams looking on is the 160 pitches he needed to get through the outing.
If you listen close enough, you can hear all 30 general managers sighing in unison.
That type of usage is certainly concerning, and maybe even a little troubling. but it's difficult to overlook his overall dominance. Granted, it's not MLB competition, but Tanaka's unbeaten streak still established a new professional baseball record. In September, he passed the former record holder Carl Hubbell's 24-game unbeaten streak set in 1936-37, and then tacked on five more games for good measure. That may well be the pitching equivalent to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Who's going to beat that in this era of baseball?
Tanaka's last loss came Aug. 19, 2012 against the Seibu Lions. During the 2013 regular season, he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 212 innings.
That sound you hear now is four or five general managers opening their checkbooks. That's all that will be able to afford this phenom, who according to several experts, including Yahoo's Jeff Passan, is expected to become the most expensive import in baseball history.
As Passan also notes, there are many questions still surrounding Tanaka. Many of which were hinted at above. But teams with money to spend will focus on the potential reward now and worry about the risk later. He's worth the gamble, and it'll be interesting to see who takes the plunge.
BLS H/N: Eye on Baseball
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