The Yankees have officially ushered Masahiro Tanaka into the fold.
So what should they expect?
Well, his salary is really the only certainty. The 27-year-old right splittersmith is going to earn $22 million in 2014 no matter what. Aaaand general manager Brian Cashman has said he expects him to be a No. 3 starter for the team. This is a paramount example of how the Yankees are simply different from everyone else -- except the Dodgers. Spending $155 million on a relative uncertainty is just not something most teams can do, even if revenues are at an all-time high and every team is getting an extra $25 million this season from the league's new TV deal. Cashman included the caveat that his new prize could be a No. 2 or an ace in the future.
Tanaka has drawn several different comparisons -- but as far as his trans-Pacific predecessors go, he could be the next Yu Darvish or the next Daisuke Matsuzaka. It's literally impossible to tell until he starts pitching, so the comparisons don't really matter. However, the fact that he's making the most out of that group will lend itself to some pretty lofty expectations.
From fans at least. Cashman seems to have a pretty realistic perspective, but the good people of Gotham might not share that sentiment right out of the gate. Tanaka's situation has been sensationalized to the point that an apprehensive prediction still looks pretty bold.
Current Oliver projections have Tanaka posting a 2.59 ERA in 205 innings with a 193/32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Basically, a better version of Cliff Lee.
That's crazy. A season like that doesn't make sense in a world that has seen Wladimir Balentien dominate the Nippon League and Yu Darvish's walk rate double from one league to the other. There almost has to be a transition period for Tanaka. Maybe he'll prove to be immune to the change, but Darvish wasn't. Hisashi Iwakuma wasn't. Daisuke ...
There are some projections that scale things back a little. You know, ones that don't predict an immediate Cy Young award.
Steamer projections are a little bit more reasonable -- at least on the surface. However, they still project him to be worth 3.8 fWAR, more than Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke. And they project him to do so by pitching 192 innings -- which is right around their norm for a 30-start pitcher. But Tanaka has only pitched 200+ innings twice in his life, and he's never made 30 starts in a single season. That's partially due to the fact that NPB has a shorter schedule, but the difference has been well represented in other player's transitions from NPB to MLB.
Iwakuma pitched out of the bullpen for about half of his first big league season, and Darvish logged just over 190. So, it's not impossible that Tanaka could throw 200 innings or more, but the consensus seems to be that such a workload right out of the gate isn't really a great idea.
If the Yankees play their cards right, they might have a magnificent pitcher on their hands -- albeit, on an equally magnificent contract; but if they rush him because of his insane compensation, he could end up responding to the changeover like Matsuzaka did.
So while the signing of Tanaka was HUGE ... the margin for error isn't "Yankee Big."