Posts Tagged ‘Iván Nova’

484px-Masahiro_Tanaka

The Ratuken Golden Eagles of NPB (Japanese League) was reportedly posting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, and he will become a free agent, available to the 30 Major League teams. The posting limit is at $20M, as per the settlement, thus opening the floor to almost every team, and it gives us a fair fight, as opposed to a bidding war between the clubs with money (you know who you are).

It seems like everyone is in on this pitcher, as he’s been all over the news in MLB, and has single-handedly stalled the starting pitcher’s market.

So what’s all the hype about this guy?

To start, over the last 3 seasons with Ratuken, Tanaka has posted a mind-blowing 53-9 record with an ERA of 1.44, striking out 593 hitters. Just last year, he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts. His 7-year career WHIP is 1.11. That alone is worth looking at, rubbing your eyes, then looking again to see if you were seeing things funny.

His age is another thing to look at. He just turned 25 years old, seemingly about to enter the prime of his career.

Mechanically, he seems sound as a bell. His pitching motion is comparable to Hiroki Kuroda, or really any Japanese pitcher, but more fluent and simple. Also, thankfully, sans the waiting for the pitch like Hideo Nomo or Daisuke Matsuzaka.

His pitching repertoire includes a low-mid 90’s fastball that tops at about 96 with near pinpoint accuracy, a mid 80’s slider with bite and control, a low 90’s shuuto (2-seam fastball), an apparently nasty splitter/forkball in the high 80’s,  a low 90’s cutter with sink, a low 70’s curveball that he seems to be slowing down, and a traditional low 80’s changeup.

So, to sum it up, we have a reliable young arm, with a million different looks, and a history of taking the ball and giving his team the chance to win every night.

Now, what team will he end up with?

There are two major players that have emerged, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.

The Yankees were the obvious favorites from the get-go. They are a notorious free-spending team (despite what they say about their “budget”), with a desperate need for consistency on the mound. Their offense isn’t exactly clean as a whistle either, but they spent on their outfield and brought in a veteran catcher who can work with pitchers well in Brian McCann. But their rotation is in shambles. CC Sabathia had a below-average year, going 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA, Hiroki Kuroda started strong but fell off in the end, and Ivan Nova has been good, but inconsistent. The remaining spots were vacated by Andy Pettitte to retirement, and Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins. Now, the 4 and 5 spots are being fought over within the system by David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Michael Pineda, who started a combined 17 games last season. They clearly have money still left to spend on Tanaka, and are always on the lookout for more star-power to fill seats in the Bronx.

Then, there are the good ol’ Cubbies. They have already made it public knowledge that they are going to go all out to get Tanaka, and with the Yankees on a “spending leash”, the Cubs might actually be the favorite. They spent a good amount of their offseason proving trade rumors wrong about staff ace Jeff Samardzija. The rest of their rotation is a work in progress, with Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson still with the team. The farm system of the Cubs is one of the tops in baseball, thanks to the work of Jed Howyer and Theo Epstein at the helm. Wrigley Field and the team seem like they are still under construction, and could become a big bad machine within a few years, and adding Tanaka would be a big step in the positive if they can get their paws on him.

If you ask me, I think the Cubs will get him in the end. They have more expendable cash than the Yankees (shocker!) with less locked up on their roster, plus a better ballpark for pitchers, and a better future. The Yankees system isn’t widely known for nurturing young players as it is bringing in the big name, and if Tanaka were smart, he’d head to the North Side of the Windy City, because the Lovable Losers might sneak up on people soon.

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I come to you as an increasingly disappointed Yankees fan.

For years, the New York Yankees have been a standard of excellence. They have had a team of selfless, team-first players, who would do anything to win the game. It was built from the ground up, and even after a good chunk of the cast left after 2001, they still kept succeeding. Even in the mid 2000’s, where they spent wildly on unnecessary free agents, they won division after division. In 2009, their spending spree worked, as they compiled yet another near complete team, and won their 27th world title. The majority of the group stayed together for the next couple of years, though it met with natural decline due to age and injury.

And then, it all started to fall apart in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS.

Derek Jeter, one of 3 Yankees left from the golden years, was running to his left to make a play, dove, and broke his ankle. Yankee fans collectively held their breath while he was helped off the field, something that never happens. Jeter was the beacon of light for the Yankees, always being there to keep the team somewhat even keel, and most of all, win games.

He didn’t play much the entire 2013 season. In fact, that 2013 season had many injuries that caused problems. Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez (plus the Biogenesis scandal that emerged the previous January), his replacement Kevin Youkilis, all spent the majority of the season either injured, or had their abilities hampered by those injuries when they finally found the field.

The pitching staff had it’s own problems. CC Sabathia, their ace and stalwart, looked nothing like an ace, bothered by occasional injury and a decline in his pitching. Phil Hughes couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Hiroki Kuroda hit a decline toward the end of the year. The fifth rotation spot became a rotation, true to it’s name.

Many of the players they signed to patch up some of those injuries didn’t quite help things along either. Vernon Wells started hot and hit a wall. Travis Hafner showed some life, then disappeared. Lyle Overbay found himself in the outfield for the first time in his career. The catcher position was manned by a few guys armed with toothpicks. Jayson Nix played everywhere, but couldn’t handle the bat most nights. They signed Mark Reynolds, which helped them in the occasional home run and rally kill. Alfonso Soriano did play some great ball, but was overshadowed by failure all around him.

The only player to have 100+ RBI as a Yankee, hit .300, play in 150+ games, hit 20 home runs, or get 150 hits, was Robinson Cano. He was set for free agency at the end of the season.

Now here is where I got really mad. The Yankees made it clear that they had 2 major priorities this off-season. Resign Cano, and keep the payroll under $189M, to avoid luxury tax. Another smaller task was to bring in players who can help in weaker positions.

Negotiations went relatively slow between the Yankees and Cano, with Cano wanting 10 years and upwards of $225M, and the Yankees saying that the best they can do is 8 years for $175M, channeling their inner Pawn Star. The Seattle Mariners swoop in and snag him for 10 years and $240M, and Cano didn’t think twice.

And if I’m Cano, I would do that over and over again with no regret.

During those negotiations, the Yankees signed former Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to 7 years and $153M, thus starting to crowd the outfield. Doing the math, that’s similar average annual value that they offered to Cano, the premium player in a premium position. Pile on top of that, that Cano didn’t like how manager Joe Girardi was using him. The Mariners offered him the contract he wanted. Game, set, match.

After that, the Yankees further overstuffed the outfield with Carlos Beltran, bringing them to 6 outfielders, albeit 4 worth playing time. While that is happening, their rotation is in shambles, with CC, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova as normal starters, and no one in sight who can step up with any certainty to take the 4 or 5 spots. Their bullpen is even more a wreck, with the only recognizable pitcher being new closer David Robertson. Their remaining infielders include 2 players on their way back from injury in Jeter and Teixeira, neither with any certainty on returning to form, Alex Rodriguez, who we still don’t know how many games he’ll be allowed to play, or how productive he would be in those games, Kelly Johnson, jack of all trades, and Brendan Ryan, who can’t handle a bat.

None of that actually bothers me much anymore, I’ve kinda gotten used to it.

What bothers me is that the way that the Yankees build their team. Think of it as a car, metaphorically. You drive your car, and it eventually gets worn down, the body gets banged up, and the engine stops functioning properly. What people should think first to do, is fix the engine, considering that the car can drive, even if the body is a little beat up. But a car with a pristine body and an dysfunctional engine won’t get you anywhere.

The Yankees are fixing their body first. The major league roster, or at least the big names, are the metaphoric body. It’s important to have a good bunch of big name guys, just as it’s important to have a good body of a car. But it’s even more important to have a functional engine, which compares to role players and young up-and-comers. The Yankees have never truly been about team building, just polishing the look of the team, to make it seem like they are doing the right thing. Their metaphoric car may look great and muscular, but it wouldn’t beat a souped up sedan in a drag race.

It’s been like that for a while in the Bronx, but it’s gotten significantly worse this year, as they move further away from true rebuilding, and further the patch job that free agency offers. They won’t go anywhere until they get some decent young guys who they can build a team around, just like the Core 4 back in the old days, the only group of 4 teammates to have played together for 15+ years, of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. The Yankees were tremendously successful building around those guys in their early careers. I think it’s time to find a new core bunch who will help them do something similar, as hard as it is, and ditch the dependence on free agents, who are just rejects from their old teams.

Until then, I will be sitting at home trying to find some real baseball teams to watch.