The Yankees have “won” the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, landing the Japanese pitcher with a stunning seven-year, $155 million contract, on top of the $20 million posting fee. This could be the riskiest contract ever handed out by a baseball team.
Yes, Tanaka has absolutely impossible stats; last season he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. How is that even possible? It could be because he is just that good. But it could also be because his opponents were inferior baseball players.
Time and time again, players put up huge numbers in Japan, then wilt when they come to America. Hideki Matsui, who was actually one of the better Japanese imports, was a 50-homer guy in Japan; here, he hit more than 30 home runs just once in 10 seasons. Kaz Matsui, everyone’s favorite former Met, hit 33 home runs before coming to Flushing, where he could barely get the ball out of the infield.
Maybe Tanaka will be different. Yu Darvish is certainly earning his money with two solid seasons thus far. But don’t forget, Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty good his first two seasons before injury and poor pitching took him down.
The point is, these players are unknowns, regardless of their numbers in Japan. So to throw such money at them is insane. Adding in the $20 million posting, Masahiro Tanaka’s $175 million deal is the third largest ever given to a pitcher, eclipsed only by Clayton Kershaw’s $215 million and Justin Verlander’s $180 million, and tied with Felix Hernandez. Those pitchers won Cy Young awards and established themselves as premier major leaguers before signing their contracts. Tanaka has never thrown a big league pitch.
I have written previously that MLB teams should be very wary of Japanese players. With the exception of a handful of guys such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, the track record is not particularly good. Yet teams continue to throw money at these players, seduced by their Japanese records.
I have no problem with Japanese players coming here, but they should have to prove themselves first before they get these mega-contracts.
Maybe the scouting has improved, so maybe Masahiro Tanaka is indeed Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver rolled into one. But that is highly unlikely. Tanaka will probably not be a flop, however he will almost certainly not repeat his gaudy Japanese numbers for which the Yankees are paying so much. There will be a drop off; how far is anyone’s guess. That’s what makes this contract so risky.