If you’ve been following Cubs news (closely or not) the name “Masahiro Tanaka” has appeared in various conversations from time to time. He’s 25, Japanese, and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. Say it with me: “Wow. He seems pretty great.”
A few things about Tanaka: he’s eligible for free agency in 2015, and his team may not want to let him go; Also, MLB and NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have come to a new posting agreement – a $20 million cap for players (before contracts and endorsements). This means that Nippon will make approximately $30 million less than they received for the likes of Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka, which also means that his team could decline to post him this season and hang on to him until his contract expires. (If I may play the Devil’s Advocate, I’d hang on to him until his contract expires.)
Now, Tanaka has stated his desire to play in the MLB next season. The Cubs have to fight with the Rangers and Dodgers for him. But this question keeps running through my mind: Are we sure he’s not going to be a big bust?
Don’t get me wrong, his numbers are impressive. But does that mean his success will transfer from the NPB to the MLB? It did for Darvish. It did for Ryu. But it didn’t for Dice-K. And let’s not forget about Kosuke Fukudome.
I’m not an expert in regional variations of baseball. But I have noticed that it seems international players from Latin America experience more success in the Major Leagues than those from other regions of the world (even moreso than American-born players). There have been a few players from the Asian region that have had success (Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, namely; there are several others you could argue are on the path to success). Many former-MLB’ers cross the Pacific in hopes to revive their careers, and usually are able to milk a few years of superstardom out of their waning careers, while the superstars of the NPB come here and don’t quite reach superstardom. Could it have something to do with the differences in pitching and hitting styles? The slap hit/drag bunt is very popular on the continent of Asia. Ichiro made it work for him, but many players who attempt that style of batting are average for a little while and fade into oblivion (see: Kosuke Fukudome).
Like I said earlier, don’t take me wrong. I want so much for Tanaka to be all he’s cracked up to be. I also don’t want to pay a $20 million fee on top of a contract that has to outdo an offer from LA and TEX and have him be a bust. His team might not even let him go yet, which may turn out to work in favor of all teams interested. If he does stay in Japan until 2015, the Cubs could pick him then and add him to a team that is (hopefully) contending for a playoff berth.
Sometimes I get crazy ideas in my head. Good thing I have you folks to share them with. Until next time!