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Tanaka introduced as 'Yankee big'

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Feb 11 2014 04:02:22 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 11 2014 04:35:26 PM CST
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees introduction

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

NEW YORK -

Masahiro Tanaka made front page news for spending $195,000 to chartering a 787 from Japan for five people along with his dog.

The New York Yankees are confident that Tanaka will be making many back pages by producing strong performances but perhaps not right away.

So as they formally introduced the 25-year-old Tuesday in their biggest press conference since signing Hideki Matsui in 2002, the Yankees are trying to reign in those extremely high expectations and offer a more realistic assessment.

That is why general manager Brian Cashman made an appearance on ESPN radio recently and stated that Tanaka is a No. 3 starter, perhaps the most expensive third starter ever at $155 million over seven years, not to mention the $20 million posting fee New York paid his former team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. It's a tone that he re-iterated Tuesday in his remarks while offering further explanation.

"This is a high-end asset that's available and it's obviously got some risk because he's transitioning from Japan," Cashman said. "So we've spoken about those difficult adjustments that are necessary. He has a great deal of ability and we can be getting more than a three. Maybe it's a two. Maybe it's a one at some point but I think because of the adjustments that are necessary, because of the contract."

Tanaka was confident in his first press conference in New York.

"When I take the mound, I feel that I would like to win every single game," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Being an ace is something that not myself but the other people label. So basically what I want to do is go out there and compete and do my best."

Those are words to the Yankees' ears where it's championship or bust every season, a fact made evident by Cashman saying: "This is Yankee big, this is Steinbrenner big" during the televised portion of the press conference to Yankee fans who share those expectations.

Still there's a reality based on many factors.

"I'm also trying to honestly prepare the reality of, for our fan base," Cashman said. "I know that because the contract is what it is, the expectations are going to be something, especially on the front end, that I want to alter to some degree, or try to. It's better to have an honest, realistic dialogue with your fans that you run through the media. Whether anybody wants to disagree, that's fine. Or agree, that's fine too.

"I want to make sure that people know how difficult this game is over here, and that there should be expectations of growing pains. Just like when I signed players from other clubs and they come to New York from other markets here in the states, there's growing pains. I just want to make sure to remind everybody, even though they might not want to hear it."

So the obvious question is if he's a No. 3 starter, why all the money -- and the answer is simple.

The amount of 25-year-old pitchers with outstanding numbers that become free agents are rare and after getting years of glowing scouting reports coming across his desk, it was time for Cashman and the Yankees to seize the opportunity.

"There's a lot of players internationally in Cuba and Japan that come through," Cashman said. "Those reports, they're really impressive but those players don't really become available in their prime years, so a lot of players that you go 'wow if this player ever becomes available, we've got to jump all over this guy.'

"Sometimes they never become available. Sometimes when they become available it's on the back end of their careers later on, much later. But in his case, he's 25 and he's in his prime and he became available in a unique circumstance in the posting system."

None of those international players have ever gone 24-0 -- as he did last year in Japan, along with a 1.27 ERA. But many of them coming from Japan have had to make the adjustment of gripping the heavier baseball in the major leagues, pitching every five days and carrying the weight of their country when taking the mound.

"That was pretty normal in Japan," Tanaka said. "I don't have regrets doing that. As for the ball, I'm going to have to adjust to that ball and I can't really overthink right now. That's the ball I'm going to be using and I just have to make the adjustment."

"One thing that I feel like I've seen from Japanese players is they feel a little bit more weight representing their country," manager Joe Girardi said. "They kind of pave the way for the next guy and the next guy and I think that trying to temper down those expectations of what you have to do is important and for me the biggest thing is just be yourself."

It's a challenge that Tanaka says he embraces and the Yankees believe his presence is comparable to Orlando Hernandez, who was 12-4 in his first year after defecting from Cuba in 1998 and pitched on three straight championship teams.

Tanaka is the third starting pitcher the Yankees have signed directly from Japan but unlike the 1997 and 2007 signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, the scouting and things to gauge the pitchers on has drastically changed. Back then, the Yankees didn't have the WBC to use as a guide, their independent scouting service was spotty and trips to Japan were much less frequent.

"There are some things that help close the gap," Cashman said. "But there's still a gap, and there's still at some point in the assessment where a leap of faith after you make an informed decision and we've made an informed decision that's certainly an expensive risk but we're trying to close the gap as best we possibly could and we're certainly hoping for good results."

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