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Masahiro Tanaka Rumors
Happy birthday to the legendary Yogi Berra, who turns 89 years old today. Arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history, Berra won three AL MVP Awards and 10 World Series titles in 18 seasons with the Yankees, plus he added three more Series rings as a coach with the Yankees and Mets. Here’s the latest from around the AL East…
- There’s still time for the Rays to turn things around, but if their early-season struggles continue, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi wonders if the club will be forced to trade David Price. Beyond just adding some needed minor league talent to the Rays’ system, a Price trade could have an even larger impact on the franchise as Morosi wonders if owner Stuart Sternberg would explore selling the team if faced with going through a rebuilding phase.
- At age 30, Jon Lester is on pace for the best season of his career, which WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford notes is another example of how ace pitchers often take years to fully master their craft. As such, it could take years for any of the young arms in the Red Sox farm system to be able to replace Lester should the southpaw leave Boston in free agency this winter.
- Masahiro Tanaka has been an instant hit as a Yankee, which even came as a bit of a surprise to Brian Cashman, the general manager told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. “I would have expected a transition to some degree. You always expect a transition period coming to New York, even if it’s just coming from another city (in MLB). Here, he’s coming from Japan, where they have a different pitching schedule and different travel,” Cashman said. Tanaka has exceeded expectations thus far in his first exposure to American baseball, as Cashman noted that the Yankees only projected Tanaka as “a solid No. 3” starter who could possibly be a No. 2.
It's been a slow day throughout baseball, but there's been at least one very interesting development. At the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston today, MLB Advanced Media presented a new plan to measure new aspects of each play and connect various pieces of data to find out why each play turned out the way it did. For example, on a ball hit to the outfield, MLBAM will track not only the trajectory of the ball, but also the timing of the outfielder's first step and the efficiency of his route. The technology will also allow teams to connect hitting, pitching, baserunning and fielding data.
Details of the system have appeared on Twitter throughout the day, but MLB.com's Mark Newman explains the system more thoroughly in a long-form article. (When you click on the article, be sure to check out the video showing an example of the data the system will track.) The system appears likely to impact analysis of all aspects of the game, but it will most obviously impact analysis of fielding. "Just on the field, with the coaching staff and the manager — when you start to look at positioning, and you start to see the exit velocity of the ball coming off the bat, and is he late or is he ahead of a lot of pitches, and then you move your infielders and outfielders accordingly," MLB.com's Jim Duquette says. The data appears likely to have a significant impact on player valuation throughout the game. The data will be collected at Brewers, Twins and Mets home games in 2014, and then the system will launch in all other ballparks in 2015. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- Masahiro Tanaka made his spring debut with the Yankees today, pitching two scoreless innings and allowing two hits against the Phillies. Even Tanaka's first spring appearance was a major news event, given that Tanaka was the Yankees' highest-profile signing in an offseason filled with high-profile Yankees signings. Three Japanese television channels broadcast the game, which also included Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki. David Waldstein of the New York Times notes that Tanaka's fastball came in at 94 MPH.
- The White Sox have signed 24 pre-arbitration eligible players to one-year deals, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets. Starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who posted a 3.51 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 200 innings in 2013, received a $50K raise to $550K, and reliever Nate Jones got a $37K raise to $545K.
In his column last night, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe discussed several matters concerning the American League East. From a transactional perspective, Cafardo says not to be surprised if David Ortiz asks the Red Sox to break the $20MM barrier in adding a year to his current contract. Here's more from the AL East:
- Early returns on Red Sox outfielder Grady Sizemore are positive, reports Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com. Hitting coach Gregg Colbrunn said that his swing has "all the good things you look for" in spite of his long layoff, while manager John Farrell said that Sizmore has been at "full speed" on the bases and in the field. Of course, notes Mastrodonato, the club has maintained that it is mostly focused on gauging whether Sizemore can maintain his health over a draining season.
- We heard earlier today that the Orioles have approached J.J. Hardy about opening extension talks. From Hardy's perspective, the shortstop tells ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, he still has not heard much about how things might shape up. "I don't know how that will all play out," Hardy said. "We'll see. I'm actually going to meet with my agent. And we're going to talk a litle bit about what could happen. And he'll kind of fill me in … because I don't really know much."
- Rays GM Andrew Friedman covered a variety of topics on the MLB Network Hot Stove show (transcript via Cork Gaines of Rays Index). Friedman said that the club still feels it will be tough to hold onto ace David Price for the long haul, but that its "mindset is to enjoy each and every day we have David here and do everything in our power to continue that relationship." The likely ultimate scenario — a trade — could take any form, explained the Tampa GM, whose assessment of the Price situation reflects the franchise's general operating strategy. "[W]e really can't have any hard and fast rules about anything," said Friedman. "So we have to be really prepared and nimble. The more prepared you are, the easier it is for you to react more quickly when things pop up. And that's what we have to do is to remain very fluid and not ever get into a situation where we have to make a certain move. But to continue to kind of assess the market and figure out when things kind of line up in our time horizon of what makes the most sense for us to sustain success."
- While the Yankees' money surely played a substantial role in landing Masahiro Tanaka, the club did not just rely on making the highest offer, reports Brandon Kuty of the Star-Ledger. With Pacific advisor George Rose leading the charge, the Yanks put together a series of gestures intended to convince him of their longstanding interest in Tanaka and overall experience with Japanese ballplayers.
Though he's yet to throw a pitch in the Major Leagues, the Yankees committed a massive $175MM to sign 25-year-old righty Masahiro Tanaka in January. $20MM of that went to his old team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with $155MM going to Tanaka. Tanaka's contract is the third-largest ever for a pitcher in MLB history, topped only by Clayton Kershaw's new extension with the Dodgers and C.C. Sabathia's 2008 free agent deal with the Yankees. Like those deals, Tanaka's includes an opt-out clause.
Tanaka comes to MLB for the 2014 season after posting what many scouts refer to as "video game numbers" in Japan last year: a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings. Last Friday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman did his best to temper expectations for Tanaka in a conversation with ESPN's Ian O'Connor. Cashman said he expects the pitcher to have growing pains in the States, and asked his ultimate upside two or three years down the road, the GM said Tanaka "has the potential to be a really solid consistent number three starter." Free agent salaries continue to rise, but I don't think the Yankees would spend that kind of money on a pitcher they thought might become a number three a year or two before his opt-out clause comes up.
Unbiased opinions were needed. To get a feel for Tanaka's repertoire and approach, injury risk, and overall ability, I spoke to high-ranking officials with scouting-related positions for four MLB teams (referred to simply as "scouts" later in this article). Each has seen the pitcher in person extensively, and none work for the Yankees.
Before we begin, here is a refresher on the 20-80 (or 2-8) scouting scale from Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus: "A score of 50 is major-league average, 60 is above-average (also referred to as "plus"), and 70 is among the best ("plus-plus"). 80 is top of the charts, and not a score that gets thrown around liberally." For more information on scouting pitchers from Goldstein, click here.
Scouting Report: Three Plus Pitches
Tanaka's fastball typically sits between 91-93 miles per hour, with the ability to touch 96 mph. Most of the scouts to whom I spoke graded his fastball as a 6, or plus, though one put a 70 on the heater. One scout praised his fastball in saying he throws a "heavy ball," though two others noted the pitch can get flat or straight at times. One of those two said Tanaka's fastball is "probably his most hittable pitch, in a way."
Scouts agreed Tanaka has a second or third gear for his fastball. In Japan he'd often be in "cruise control" for the first half of the game, ramping his fastball up into the mid-90s later if he needed to. Noted one scout who loves Tanaka, "When they're in Japan, they don't have to throw their best stuff because the league's not as good." That figures to change for Tanaka in MLB, given the deeper lineups.
Tanaka clearly had plus-plus control in Japan, with walk rates below two per nine innings in each of the last four seasons. Scouts feel that will translate to plus in the States. Grading Tanaka's command, one scout said "60 or 70," another went with 55, and one gave a 5. The most pessimistic scout elaborated, "I actually thought with the offspeed stuff, the splitter and the slider especially, I thought there was more command of those pitches. And I thought with the fastball he definitely threw strikes to an above average level but I thought the command, pinpointing it, was just average." When Tanaka does get into trouble in MLB, there's a good chance it will be the result of throwing hittable fastballs.
Next is Tanaka's splitter, by most accounts a nasty pitch. One scout put an 8 on it, suggesting if you don't put an 8 on this particular pitch, then you might be the type who never gives out 8s. He explained, "It's not a tumbling pitch. It's more of a disappearing fastball. It's not a Contreras splitter that comes out and kind of flutters." Two others put 7s on the splitter, though one dissented with a 6. That person admitted the split "could be plus-plus," but unlike his peers, he feels Tanaka's best pitch is his slider.
The lone scout who prefers the slider explained, "I think it's a true slider with a good tilt, he would get depth to it more than ones that are plus-plus." He feels the slider has a slight lead over the splitter, noting the slider has been Tanaka's pitch since his high school days. With the other scouts, Tanaka's slider received a 6 across the board.
It is generally agreed that Tanaka's fastball, splitter, and slider are plus pitches, and he'll get strikeouts with each. For a change of pace, he also throws a slow curveball, described by one scout as "useful." This pitch grades in the 45-50 range. Tanaka's ability to throw this pitch for strikes allows him to pitch backward if he chooses. Typically, though, Tanaka's approach is aggressive, as one scout explained: "He pitches inside, he doesn't pitch away from contact a lot. Some guys in Japan, they're not as aggressive. He has more of a Western style that he's not afraid to go up and in, he's not afraid to pitch inside. He pitches kind of with a little chip on his shoulder."
Reduced Strikeout Rate: Red Flag?
Though he posted a 1.27 ERA, Tanaka struck out only 7.8 batters per nine innings last year in Japan. That mark was his lowest since 2010. While one scout admitted, "It's certainly not a positive," all agreed the reduced strikeout rate is not a cause for concern. Explained another, "He's the type of guy that if he wants to, he can go out and strike out hitters. He's a brilliant, smart pitcher and he's not afraid to pitch to contact. I saw him doing that a lot that last couple years. That's one of the reasons he was able to stay efficient with his pitch counts." Throw in MLB lineups that are much more prone to swinging and missing, and there's good reason to believe Tanaka will whiff more than 7.8 per nine in 2014.
Heavy Workload: Cause For Concern?
In December, multiple MLB executives expressed concern to Yahoo's Jeff Passan regarding Tanaka's high pitch counts. The righty averaged about 110 pitches per regular season start in 2013, with seven outings in excess of 122 and a high of 136. Most famously, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in a Japan Series game and another 15 the next day in relief. In total, he threw 1,315 innings through his age-24 season, which hasn't happened in the Majors since the mid-70s, according to SI's Tom Verducci. Perhaps the GMs and owners calling the shots were worried about Tanaka's high pitch counts, but most of the scouts we talked to brushed it off.
"He's been trained for that his entire life," remarked one. Another noted his durable, solid body and suggested he's someone who might be able to handle throwing a lot of pitches. One scout noted that while it's obviously not a great idea to throw 160 pitches in a game, Japanese pitchers typically get six or seven days rest between starts, making the total mileage similar to MLB starters. None of the four feel that Tanaka's injury risk exceeds that of a typical MLB starter. Keep in mind, however, that the chance of going on the disabled list for the average MLB starter is around 39% for 2014, based on research from Jeff Zimmerman for FanGraphs.
Tanaka's Overall Projection
In a tweet last month, Joel Sherman of the New York Post said the comparables he's heard most often for Tanaka are Hiroki Kuroda and prime-age Dan Haren, plus reliever Bryan Harvey for his splitter. One scout agreed with the Haren comp, noting that Tanaka has more arm strength. Others cited Zack Greinke and Matt Cain.
In terms of placing an overall grade on Tanaka, opinions ranged, but all were quite positive. One scout, who admitted being "toward the higher end of the spectrum," described Tanaka as a number one starter, without hesitation. He expects Tanaka to contend for the Cy Young, and feels he'll be one of the ten best starting pitchers in MLB in 2014.
The other three scouts placed Tanaka in a slightly lower tier, ranking him in the #15-25 range among all MLB starters for 2014. Two of them described him as a number two starter.
The mystery of how Tanaka will perform in Major League Baseball should be resolved in short order. He'll face MLB hitters in Spring Training later this month, and could have a bit of a soft landing with the Yankees' first three regular season games coming in Houston in early April.
The Diamondbacks didn't ultimately land Masahiro Tanaka, but the club feels that Paul Goldschmidt significantly helped their pursuit of the Japanese ace, Jules Tompkins of ArizonaSports.com reports. When the Diamondbacks met with Tanaka, they brought Goldschmidt along. "It was very interesting to watch the interaction between Tanaka and Goldy, it was very clear — even though the language barrier was there — that Tanaka was impressed that he was there," says Diamondbacks executive Ken Kendrick. "And he asked him several questions through the interpreter about our club and about Arizona." Here are more notes from around baseball.
- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly appreciates the confidence the organization showed in giving him a three-year contract, writes MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom. "The organization has shown confidence," Mattingly says. "I think it says that to fans, it says that to me and more importantly it says that to the players. It lets them know that we feel like this guy can do the job." Mattingly notes that one thing his contract doesn't give him is security — compared to the Dodgers' enormous payroll, Mattingly's contract is "a drop in the bucket," so if they feel the need to fire him, the contract likely won't constrain them.
- In addition to the obvious cultural differences, Tanaka will have to adjust to a number of other factors as he prepares for his debut with the Yankees, Anthony McCarron of New York Daily News writes. That includes the size of the ball and the textures of the mounds, as well as more power-centric opposing lineups.
Current Cubs president of baseball operations and former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein covered a range of subjects in a fascinating interview on WEEI's Hot Stove Show on Thursday (audio link; transcript). In addition to discussing the two clubs he has headed from a baseball ops perspective, Epstein emphasized the impact of changes to the CBA. The new system has both reduced teams' abilities to reap draft picks from outgoing free agents, Epstein said, and made it difficult to pay for hard-to-sign talent in later draft rounds. Here's more from around the league, including other notable talking points from Epstein:
- Discussing his current club's reported pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, Epstein noted that the pitcher likely cost the Yankees more in real terms than the team's $175MM contract and release fee commitment, once the collective bargaining tax is accounted for. The signing, said Epstein, "reflects the dynamic that there are many, many teams with lots and lots of dollars to spend and very few places to spend them, very few players who represent sound investments for the dollars."
- "There are lots of teams demanding talented, prime-age players, and supply is really a trickle," Epstein continued. "Fewer and fewer players of that ilk are reaching free agency. … You're going to see these prices that cause people to shake heads. … Because of the TV deals, the teams that have them have a lot of money and not a lot of attractive players to spend the money on." Indeed, as I explored earlier tonight, some teams' desires to use free cash to enhance the value of their player assets (i.e., control and contract rights) could result in increasingly robust contracts for some younger players that remain years away from free agency.
- One player that seems suitable for an attractive, long-term investment is Yoenis Cespedes of the Athletics. Fresh on the heels of today's extension of teammate Coco Crisp, Cespedes said that he, too, hopes to ink a new pact, tweets John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. The 28-year-old slugger, who still has two years remaining on the deal he signed out of Cuba, said that he hopes to play for the A's for his entire career. Of course, given his relative youth, upside, and high profile, Cespedes figures to command a much higher price than the $22.75MM over two years just given to Crisp. It remains to be seen whether the A's will be willing to dangle a sufficient guarantee to get a deal done.
- Turning back to the aforementioned Tanaka, Yankees GM Brian Cashman told ESPN Radio today (via ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand) that the club views its new acquisition as "a really solid, consistent number three starter." Cashman noted that, though the club scouted Tanaka extensively, uncertainty remains as to how he will transition to the big leagues. "If we get more than that," Cashman said, "all the better. He's got a great deal of ability."
- Two arbitration hearings took place today, after none occurred last year. Andrew Cashner of the Padres and Vinnie Pestano of the Indians both made their cases to their respective panels. Cashner and the Padres are quite close in filing numbers ($2.4MM against $2.275MM), while Pestano ($1.45MM) and the Indians ($975K) left a larger absolute and relative sum to chance.
- Glancing in at MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker, 16 cases remain unsettled as hearings begin to take place. By my count, just over $23MM remains at stake between the player filings ($79.325MM total) and team counters ($56.15MM). Only the Indians, with Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley, and Josh Tomlin (in addition to Pestano), have more than one outstanding arbitration case.
In his latest column over at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal reports that the Diamondbacks' pursuit of top free agents Masahiro Tanaka, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran stemmed from the fact they'll soon be completing a new television deal with FOX Sports that will be worth at least $90MM per season for a span of 15 to 20 years (beginning in 2016). He notes that while comparing TV deals is difficult because of differing equity stakes negotiated by each team, but the contract should still top the Rangers' recent TV deal, which pays them $80MM per season. More highlights from Rosenthal…
- The Cubs' offer to Masahiro Tanaka did not include an opt-out clause, according to Rosenthal. Knowing that they might not compete until 2016, the Cubs were wary of including a clause that would allow him to opt out shortly after their next competitive club hit the field.
- Their recent signing of Matt Garza will allow the Brewers to move trade acquisition Will Smith (received in exchange for Norichika Aoki) to the bullpen. Milwaukee could still add another reliever this offseason, but they also want to take a look at Rule 5 lefty Wei-Chung Wang.
- After missing out on a Major League deal with the Orioles due to concerns over his back, Tyler Colvin is weighing a number of minor league offers.
- The Marlins and Rockies are both interested in former Reds right-hander Nick Masset, who has missed each of the past two seasons due to shoulder injuries.
After an offseason highlighted by the signing of Robinson Cano, the Mariners may be done adding high-priced talent, MLB.com's Greg Johns reports. GM Jack Zduriencik is looking for another starting pitcher, but probably won't want to pay the prices necessary to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
"I don't think we're going to jump in and invest where some of these dollars are going," Zduriencik says. "It just doesn't make sense when you take a 30-, 31-, 32-year old pitcher that wants five or six years and there is some history there of injury or inconsistencies."
Zduriencik said those risks were the reason the Mariners didn't strongly pursue Masahiro Tanaka (who is younger, but would have required a long commitment). He also suggests that it would have been difficult to outbid the Yankees. "We've made two major investments here in the last two years with Felix [Hernandez] and now Robinson," Zduriencik says. "To do that again would have been real challenging. And in the end, the numbers could have gone up. If we made that offer, who knows what the heck the Yankees would have done after that?"
Johns notes that the Mariners are "in the running" for starter Scott Baker, who missed all of 2012 and most of 2013 due to injury. Zduriencik also says the Mariners have had many talks with Nelson Cruz's representation, but the length and dollar value of the contract and the threat of losing a draft pick are all part of the Mariners' considerations.
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checks in with GMs, players, writers, and scouts to help run down the best coaches in baseball. On his list of bench coaches who are managers in waiting: Brad Mills of the Indians, Torey Luvullo of the Red Sox, Larry Bowa of the Phillies, Tim Flannery of the Giants, and the Brewers' Jerry Narron. More from today's column..
- The Pirates probably won’t go after a pitcher if A.J. Burnett retires. Right now, Pittsburgh is looking for a full-time first baseman and would use the money that would have gone to the veteran toward that end. Cafardo also notes that the Orioles could be a "wild card" in the situation since Burnett lives in Baltimore.
- While the bids of the other teams are still unknown, one GM threw out the following figures in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes: Yankees $155MM, Cubs $120MM, Diamondbacks $120MM, Dodgers $119MM, White Sox $100MM, Astros $100MM.
- The Diamondbacks were head over heels for Tanaka, but the fact they weren’t on one of the coasts and they were in a smaller media market worked against them.
- Scott Boras doesn't represent David Ortiz, but he tells Cafardo that he feels for them. Boras sees some similarities between the Red Sox star and his own client Kendrys Morales. Morales is seen by most clubs as a DH rather than a first baseman which is hurting his value. Boras argues that Ortiz is the featured power hitter in Boston's lineup as a DH and believes that Morales can also provide value in that role.
- There had been some talk that Daisuke Matsuzaka might go back to Japan to pitch, but the possibility of breaking into the Mets’ rotation with Matt Harvey out intrigued Matsuzaka enough to fight for a spot.
- The Giants have been through a lot with Pablo Sandoval and even if he has a good season, this could be Pablo Sandoval's last in San Francisco. Sandoval will be a free agent following the 2014 season.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: A.J. Burnett | Arizona Diamondbacks | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Chicago White Sox | Cleveland Indians | Daisuke Matsuzaka | Houston Astros | Kendrys Morales | Los Angeles Dodgers | Masahiro Tanaka | Milwaukee Brewers | New York Mets | New York Yankees | Philadelphia Phillies | Pittsburgh Pirates | San Francisco Giants
After a poor 2013 season and an underwhelming offseason, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. understands the criticism coming his way, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick writes. "People say, 'Don't you think you feel like you've built up equity? You guys had so many years of success.' I'm like, 'Not here in Philadelphia, my friend.' It doesn't work like that here," Amaro says. "We may have had one year of a pass, but our job is to try to get ourselves to the point where we're back again contending. Quickly." Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo hasn't made many phone calls recently, but he's still looking for ways to make his team better heading into spring training, MASNsports' Dan Kolko writes. Rizzo confirms that the Nationals were interested in Grant Balfour, but Balfour liked the proximity of the Rays to his home in Clearwater (Twitter links). Despite losing out on Balfour, the Nationals may not pursue another reliever, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets. A backup catcher, however, could still be a possibility, tweets MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
- With Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki, the 2014 Yankees will have more Japanese star power than any Major League team ever, writes FOX Sports' Jon Morosi. Kuroda, in particular, could be especially helpful as Tanaka adapts to U.S. baseball.