The deadline for Masahiro Tanka to sign with a team is coming up on Friday, but many speculate that the decision will be made before then, possibly as early as Wednesday. The Yankees, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, White Sox and Cubs have been the primary suitors for Tanaka, with many speculating that the Yankees and Cubs are out in front of the pack. The rumored money figures at around $120-140 million over 6 or 7 years for the Japanese legend, who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. The burning question is if Tanaka is worth the money that he is soon to earn.
Highly touted Japanese pitchers have had varying degrees of success in the major leagues. The last two that had similar expectations as Tanaka were Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. Matsuzaka, who might have been the most touted Japanese player ever besides Ichiro, earned 0ver $50 million from the Red Sox when he came into the major leagues. Ironically, Theo Epstein was the general manager of Boston at the time. The pitcher commonly referred to as Dice-K had a phenomenal first two season in Beantown, including posting a 2.90 ERA in 2008, before injury problems plagued him the rest of his career.
Yu Darvish was the first highly touted international pitcher that the new regime seriously went after, but he ended up going to the Rangers. Darvish posted a career ERA of 1.99 and had 1,259 strikeouts in seven seasons in the Nippon Pro Baseball League (NPB). Their total investment was over twice of what the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Darvish has only been in the majors for two seasons, but has been an all star in both of them and cemented himself as one of the best pitchers in the AL last season. He even flirted with a perfect game in his first start of 2013. Between the two pitchers, Darvish has clearly had more success, but keep in mind that Dice-K had a great first couple years as well. However, Darvish has shown to have much better stuff than Matsuzaka as well as posting better numbers in the NPB.
This brings me to whether Tanaka can be as good, or even better, than Darvish. There is no doubt Tanaka has the stuff to do it. His numbers in the NPB weren’t as good as Darvish’s, but better than Matsuzaka’s, and last season was an indication that he has the potential to have a lot of success in the MLB. His 2013 numbers were much better than what is career numbers show. Tanaka posted an ERA of 1.27, and while NPB numbers don’t translate to as much success in the MLB, those numbers are still unheard of.
Tanaka is expected to receive more money than Darvish did, and I think that if the Cubs were to sign him, it would be completely worth the investment. An arm like Tanaka’s at the ripe age of just 25 doesn’t come around very often, and even though the Cubs aren’t competing this season, he can be the staff ace for many years to come. With their exceptional farm system, the Cubs should contend in the next few years, and Tanaka will be a big part of a playoff run. While you never throw $120+ million at a player without full confidence it will work out, the Cubs can’t afford to miss out on an opportunity like this. While the decision is up to Tanaka, the Cubs should and will throw the necessary money his way in hopes of the two sides completing a deal.