It seems that we have the answer to one of the biggest questions of the offseason. The ongoing saga of whether or not the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post Masahiro Tanaka appears to have come to a close, with the Golden Eagles deciding to make Tanaka available for major league clubs to attempt to sign. With a limit on the posting fee set at $20 Million, Tanaka is expected to be a player that virtually every team is hoping to sign.
With the posting cost being as low as it is, it is expected that most, if not all, teams will at least inquire on Tanaka. Since the posting amount is refunded back should he not sign with the club, it is the perfect gamble. If he signs, great – you have that pitcher you have been looking for. If not, here’s your $20 Million back, and thank you for checking in. What do you have to lose?
In the case of the Kansas City Royals, it may make sense to inquire as to what Tanaka would want on the open market. However, with the lower posting cost, Tanaka may look to get a bigger contract than what Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka had received upon coming over. As it is, Tanaka is thought to be looking for a deal worth more than $100 Million. But the question remains – is Tanaka worth it?
Although the top free agent pitchers may have flaws, they are at least known commodities. People know what they are getting with Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza, even if there are there are questions about whether or not these pitchers can be consistent. Masahiro Tanaka, on the other hand, is the Great Unknown.
What is known about him statistically certainly looks impressive. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, striking out 183 batters in 212 innings of work. Those numbers, aside from the strikeouts, outpaced what even Darvish produced in the Japanese League, although Darvish was thought to be the better prospect than Tanaka is. Yet, it is thought that Tanaka may have the best splitter in the world (yes – in the world) and better command of his pitches than Darvish had. If he can live up to those statistics and his splitter is truly that good, then he would be well worth the investment.
However, there are concerns about Tanaka, particularly with his mechanics. With his long stride to home, his fastball, which is typically in the low 90’s, has a tendency to come in with little movement. If that remains the case when he comes over stateside, it would not matter how good his splitter is, because hitters would just wait for the fastball.
So back to the question – is Masahiro Tanaka worth it for the Royals? Despite his amazing season for Rakuten last season, he probably would not be. With his expected contract and questions about whether or not his fastball can survive in the majors, Tanaka is likely a gamble that would be better for another team. If the Royals are really looking to get a second starter, they would likely be better served by attempting to bring back Ervin Santana than in signing as big of an unknown as Tanaka.