The Yankees have agreed to terms with Masahiro Tanaka on a $155 million, seven-year deal, an average annual salary of more than $22 million.
Tanaka, 25, gets the fifth-largest contract ever for a major league pitcher, in terms of total dollars, behind Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and teammate CC Sabathia.
Sabathia was the main free-agent pickup the last offseason when the Yankees missed the playoffs, in 2008. The Yankees signed Sabathia, righty A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira that offseason as free agents for a total commitment of $423.5 million. This offseason, after missing the playoffs, the Yankees have used the same playbook, as they’ve committed $438 million to four free agents—Tanaka, catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. (They also spent $36 million on shorter-term contracts to re-sign Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda and Brendan Ryan, plus free-agent Kelly Johnson.)
Tanaka earned national fame in Japan when he broke Daisuke Matsuzaka’s career record for strikeouts by a high school pitcher in 2006, then the next year pitched a full season in the Rakuten Eagles rotation as an 18-year-old. Tanaka soon became one of the top pitchers in Japan, winning the 2011 Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young.
When Yu Darvish left Japan after the 2011 season, Tanaka became the undisputed No. 1 pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball. In 2013 he won his second Sawamura Award and the Pacific League MVP en route to leading Rakuten to an NPB championship. Tanaka has the stuff and polish to become a No. 2 starter in the major leagues immediately.
He pitches off a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and touches 96. He mixes a two-seamer to get quick groundball outs and a four-seamer when he needs extra velocity. Tanaka has a plus fastball but he sinks on the backside of his delivery, which causes his fastball to come in on a flat plane, making the pitch more hittable than the pure velocity would suggest.
See also: GIFs of Tanaka’s best pitches
See also: Who’s better, Tanaka or Darvish?
See also: Kershaw gets $215 million deal
Tanaka’s 84-89 mph splitter alleviates some of the concern about his fastball angle, as it’s a wipeout pitch that hitters have trouble distinguishing from his fastball. It’s arguably the best splitter on the planet, earning 70 grades with late downward tumble, starting at the hitter’s thighs and looking like a juicy fastball before dropping beneath the bottom of the zone. Tanaka’s 82-85 mph slider has flashed as a third plus pitch, though he had some trouble snapping it off consistently last year and got hurt when he hung them, but it’s another swing-and-miss pitch when it’s on point.
Tanaka also mixes a 71-76 mph curveball that he’ll use early in the count on occasion. Tanaka does wrap his wrist in the back of his arm action, but he has a repeatable delivery and a track record of throwing strikes. Facing Japanese hitters, Tanaka is known to cruise against hitters at the bottom of the lineup, then ramp up his stuff against the better hitters or when pitching out of a jam. Tanaka doesn’t have the upside of Darvish when he left Japan, but several teams project him as a frontline starter.
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