Masahiro Tanaka Coming to America(?)

Numerous media sources are reporting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles will indeed post Masahiro Tanaka in spite of the new posting agreement/system which will cost the team as much as $50 million in posting fees.  It has not yet been announced by Rakuten that Tanaka will be posted, so there’s still the chance that the media reports are a lot of wishful thinking, but at least it now seems much more likely than not that Tanaka will be posted.

With Rakuten only getting $20 million and MLB only having to pony up said $20 million to negotiate with Tanaka, the odds are good that Tanaka will command a contract around $100 million.  There’s always a question about how a pitcher coming from Japan or South Korea or Cuba will do when entering the MLB system, and there’s always the risk that a pitcher’s arm will suddenly give out.  However, all indications are that Tanaka is the real deal.

Certainly, MLB teams thinks so.  Teams have been waiting on Tanaka before signing a huge number of middle-of-the-rotations starters including Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and A. J. Burnett.  The fact that so many solid starters have not yet signed is an extremely strong indication that many teams think Tanaka is the cream of the crop and are waiting to see what his available does to the market.

Further, Tanaka’s NPB numbers are startlingly good and highly comparable to Yu Darvish’s.  Last season, Hyun-jin Ryu proved the Dodgers investment of $60 million+ was no mistake — Tanaka’s NPB numbers are far better than Ryu’s were in South Korea’s KBO, and NPB is about as much better than the KBO as MLB is better than NPB.

The only knock on Tanaka is that he is probably not as good as Yu Darvish.  But how many pitchers are?  I have no doubt that if a draft were conducted today for all major league players by all major league teams, Darvish would be among the first five starting pitchers selected.  Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez might get picked before Darvish, but anyone else? Probably not.

It’s also worth noting that Tanaka’s NPB stats are distinctly better than Japan’s first $100 million man Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Any number of media reports and articles now refer to Dice-K as a “flop” and a “failure,” but an awful lot of that is the revisionist history and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-ism so common to sports writing and fandom.  Two years into Matsuzaka’s tenure with the Red Sox, when he was coming off an 18-3 season, had a major league record of 33-15 and had a World Series win, no one thought the BoSox had made a mistake.

In his third season with the Red Sox, Dice-K’s arm gave out.  How many major league starters who have thrown a lot of innings year after year have their arms give out at some point?  More than half, most likely.  The ones who don’t frequently end up in the Hall of Fame.  The upshot is that Matsuzaka was worth the $103 million gamble at the time it was made.

Tanaka’s work loads in Japan were fairly high, although he topped 200 innings pitched only twice (226.1 IP in 2011 and 212 last season).  Yu Darvish topped 200 IP four times in his NPB career, but only in his last season did he top 210 (232 IP in 2011).  Matsuzaka only did it twice, but he was worked hard in those two seasons(240.1 IP in 2001 — not surprisingly, he was hurt the next season — and 215 IP in 2005, his penultimate season in Japan).  To date, Tanaka has handled his NPB workloads pretty well, but like both Darvish and Matsuzaka he’s thrown a lot of innings before the age of 25.

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