The Evil Empire is back. The New York Yankees signed 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal, adding yet another pricey free agent to a collection that already includes Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Luxury tax be damned!
This puts the Bombers payroll over their self-imposed $189 million limit and sends a message to both fans and the rest of baseball that after a postseason-less, injury-plagued 2013 they are committed to winning at all costs. The last time the Yankees spent like drunken sailors was after the 2008 season when they failed to make postseason for the first time since 1993. That brought them championship number 27 when all was said and done.
So what does the addition of Masahiro Tanaka bring to the Bombers? The Yankees get a young pitcher in his prime, which is something that doesn’t come onto the open market anymore in baseball. Tanaka is still unproven in the major leagues; however, he is coming off a 24-0, 1.27 ERA season in Japan. He also tossed eight complete games and had 132 strikeouts while only allowing 32 walks. He performed well in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics for Japan, making eight appearances and posting a 2.89 ERA.
Of course, there are differences in the Japanese game. The lineups aren’t as loaded and the baseball is smaller. Scouts say Masahiro Tanaka has a good fastball, devastating split-finger fastball and solid hard slider. He also gets good deception with his pitches by slowing everything down when he comes out of the wind up. This could prove to be frustrating to hitters. Tanaka has experience pitching with the larger MLB baseball. He has used it during the WBC and reportedly would throw with it during his bullpen sessions.
Getting Tanaka will mean a much more solid rotation for New York – a rotation fronted by slimmed down ace CC Sabathia and veteran Hiroki Kuroda. It also means the Yankees can see how the likes of Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno pan out during spring training before making any decisions about the back of the rotation.
The Yankees do have other pressing needs to address, such as filling out the bullpen. And does anyone really think the 2014 infield will feature Brian Roberts at second base and Kelly Johnson at third? Now that the floodgates are open, we could be treated to another payroll-busting surprise. The Evil Empire is back. Long live the Evil Empire.