The New York Yankees must make a strong push for Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka officially will join Major League Baseball this winter, and there figures to be a number of potential suitors for the Japanese pitcher. But no team needs Tanaka like the Yankees, who are still set to enter 2014 with a suspect pitching staff despite an abundance of offseason moves.
The Yankees have bolstered their lineup by signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson. The additions should help lessen the blow of losing Robinson Cano, especially since New York also will have the luxury of a healthy Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but the Yankees have failed to address their most glaring weakness. Pitching ultimately could be the Yankees’ Achilles’ heel in 2014, much like it was in 2013.
The problem is the Yankees’ pitching staff has a ton of question marks without any internal solutions in sight. CC Sabathia dropped weight, showed diminished velocity and was a shell of his former self in 2013. Hiroki Kuroda was solid, but he?ll turn 39 before Opening Day and Father Time can strike like a sledgehammer at any moment. Ivan Nova turned his season around in the second half, but he?s hardly a model of consistency. David Phelps? shakiness forced him to the bullpen in September following a disabled list stint. Michael Pineda could provide a boost given his natural talent, but he?s very much a wild card since he hasn?t pitched in the majors since 2011.
The Yankees? pitching concerns are further heightened by the offenses that New York will be asked to consistently slow down while playing in the American League East. The Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays all ranked in the top 11 in runs scored in 2013, with Boston leading the majors with 853 runs. The Bronx Bombers, who ranked 16th in the majors with 650 runs scored, should be able to hold their own in some early season slugfests, but New York?s lackluster rotation will make it difficult to grind out wins in crunch time, especially with the club still scrapping together a bullpen sans Mariano Rivera.
Tanaka isn?t a guarantee. We?ve seen big-name free agents — some of whom have come over from Japan — fail in the past. (Yankees fans don?t need to be reminded of Kei Igawa and the $46 million he made to pitch 71 2/3 innings in pinstripes.) But Tanaka is the best starting pitcher available on the open market and the only one who has ace potential. Plus, the Yankees don?t need to relinquish a draft pick to sign him, which is important given the depleted state of their farm system.
The Yankees? spending spree this offseason is reminiscent to 2008-09, when New York inked Teixeira (eight years, $180 million), Sabathia (seven years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (five years, $82.5 million) to deals that totaled $423.5 million. It?s hard to imagine a World Series title following suit this time around, though, unless the Yankees improve their pitching staff — something that can be achieved by signing Tanaka.