Tanaka? More like Ta-NO-ka!

Hilarious, I know.

As the entire world now knows, the Yankees have signed Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka. The deal is quite massive, seven years and $155 million. And that includes an opt-out after four years. That averages out to more than $22 million per year.

While I don’t think anyone can ask why the Jays didn’t bid more, the main criticism toward the organization was that they dropped out after the years went beyond five years. The argument, they say, is that if there was ever a player to go over your self-imposed five year contract rule this guy was it.

He’s only 25! He’s an ace! He’s what they need.

While I’m not terribly happy they pulled out the five-year rule, I don’t think Tanaka is necessarily THE guy to break that rule for. Yes, he’s only 25, but he’s not your typical 25. Since becoming a member of the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2007 he’s thrown a total of 1,315 innings. That would rank him 19th if he were in the Major Leagues, just behind Edwin Jackson and ahead of Jon Lester. 

And he’d be far and away the leader for pitchers 25 and younger. Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez have thrown 1,180 and 1,113 innings respectively. Though if you add his minor league numbers Kershaw has thrown 1,363 innings, and Hernandez has thrown 275 before 2007.

Still, Tanaka’s up there. He’s thrown a lot of innings, and a lot at a young age. As an 18-year-old he threw 186 innings and has thrown more than 150 every year since. He’s thrown more than 170 innings in six of his seven seasons.

The prevailing thought among Major League teams is to work their innings totals up. A pitcher who was throwing 180-plus innings as a teen could scare some people off. And Toronto, as a team that seems to be slow to build up innings totals of its young pitchers (see Sanchez, Aaron), could have been especially scared off.

Now the flip side is that he’s been quite durable. And I suppose that’s true, but it still is a pretty decent reason for a team to give pause.

If Toronto is loathe to hand out deals more than five years, you’ve got to figure pitchers – as the most volatile and injury prone position – are even less likely to get a longer deal. Add to that a pitcher who wasn’t developed in the same way you believe pitchers should be developed and I could easily buy Tanaka’s not the guy to break the five year rule.

 

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