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Nine Innings: Can't blame Yankees for paying steep price for Masahiro Tanaka

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 22, 2014 11:59 AM

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Playing nine innings while wondering if Theo Epstein broke any hotel-room chairs after learning the Yankees beat him out for Masahiro Tanaka ...

tanakfinn122.JPG1. As fulfilling as it was to watch the Red Sox win in the manner that they did last year -- with a sensibly-constructed, immensely likable roster of players, as you may recall -- any knee-jerk reaction to scold or patronize the Yankees for spending huge money on a single player is short-sighted and could be regrettable. It's not a bad idea at all to pay a steep price for a player if you believe he will be worth the investment. You just have to make sure it's the right player, which the Red Sox did not do with Carl Crawford. I'd hope, with the Red Sox' resources, that if someone comes along in free agency (or even via trade) whom they believe is a franchise cornerstone who fits the roster and the market, they'd pay the going rate. I'm not sure Tanaka will be worth what the Yankees are paying him. But he might be, and they need him or someone like him. Can't fault them now for paying for a high-end if mysterious talent.

2. The mystery, of course, is that the Yankees just can't know for sure what they're getting. They don't seem to believe he's their version of Yu Darvish, which is good, because no one else does, either. Tanaka is not as big and doesn't throw as hard as the Rangers' strikeout king, his fastball topping out in the mid-90s rather than hanging out there regularly. His best pitch is said to be a splitter, and he also has an excellent curveball. I'm not sure what his MLB comp would be, and it's kind of unfortunate that he only seems to be compared to previous Japanese pitchers who have come stateside. But since that is the game that is being played, the hunch here is that his rookie season is better than Daisuke Matsuzaka's or Hiroki Kuroda's, but not nearly as good as Hideo Nomo's. He'll be the Yankees' best starter, which is faint praise at the moment given that CC Sabathia is coming off an elbow injury (and now looks like Popeye Jones) and Kuroda is pushing 40 years old.

3. I tend to think the Yankees would have bid similarly on Tanaka no matter what, and I'm sure we'll hear in the coming days that the Bronx was really the only place he wanted to be. But the thought that they were freed up to do this because of Alex Rodriguez's suspension is fairly agitating, even if it's not exactly the case. On principle alone, they shouldn't receive a get-out-of-jail-free card on that idiotic contract. He did pull his inept Scooby-Doo villain act on their watch.

4. Tanaka stat of the day from the inimitable Jayson Stark:

You know what's most amazing about that fact? That Blyleven pitched effectively until he was 38 years old despite featuring an elbow-snapping curveball and having been abused as a young pitcher -- he threw 325 innings at age 22, but with just 25 complete games in 40 starts for the '72 Twins. Slacker.

5. The Yankees still need at least one more starting pitcher. He'd probably give up 55 home runs at Yankee Stadium, but it would be amusing to see them spend some of their See-Ya A-Rod windfall on Bronson Arroyo, a high-school rival who had A-Rod pegged as a phony long before it was fashionable.

6. Not sure which is the more impressive feat: Tanaka going 24-0 in Japan last season, or Dice-K going 18-3 for the 2008 Red Sox while averaging fewer than six innings per start. But I do know that the latter in particular is one of the strongest examples of why judging pitchers on win totals is a foolish game.

7. Now that the $189 million threshold is in their rear-view mirror -- why did it ever matter to them in the first place? -- the Yankees should sign Stephen Drew and move the Pre-Retirement Derek Jeter Monument to third base, no matter whether he deigns to go or not. The Yankees are in win-now-and-forever mode again, and Drew makes them better now, with a few quality seasons at shortstop still ahead.

8. Predicted 2014 AL East standings, pre-Tanaka signing:
1. Red Sox
2. Rays
3. Yankees
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

Predicted AL East standings, post-Tanaka signing:
1. Red Sox
2. Rays
3. Yankees
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

igawakeifinn121.JPG

Well, at least the bar is set low.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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