Masahiro Tanaka's video-game numbers for NPB's Rakuten Golden Eagles this season have turned quite a few heads in the United States, and according to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Yankees "are going to be serious players" for the Japanese ace.
King spoke with several executives who guessed that the posting fee for Tanaka could go as high as $60MM, but the Yankees aren't overly concerned about that number given the fact that the posting fee wouldn't count against their stated desire to get underneath baseball's $189MM luxury tax threshhold. The expected $50-60MM contract that would go along with such a posting fee — contract totals are usually in the same ballpark as the posting fee — certainly would.
King writes that assistant GM Billy Eppler and pro scout/former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu have both watched Tanaka extensively this season. While the common consensus has been that Tanaka is a lesser prospect than Yu Darvish was prior to joining the Majors, King spoke to a scout who prefers Tanaka to Darvish:
"He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower," the scout said. "Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter."
Tanaka, who doesn't turn 25 years old until Nov. 1, is 22-0 for the Golden Eagles with a 1.23 ERA. His strikeout rate has dipped slightly from previous seasons, though he still manages nearly eight whiffs per nine innings and has averaged just over one walk per nine innings as well. His splitter is such a wipeout pitch that Baseball America's Ben Badler called it perhaps the best splitter in the world back in late August.
The Yankees will have competition for Tanaka — one talent evaluator told King that the Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers will be in the mix as well — but they also have a clear need for starting pitching with Andy Pettitte's retirement and Hiroki Kuroda's uncertain future. New York also saw CC Sabathia decline in 2013 and is unsure what, if anything, they can receive in the future from Michael Pineda.