Report: Yankees will be “serious players” for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka

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If you haven’t heard of Masahiro Tanaka yet, it’s time to get familiar with him. The bidding for his services is about to get serious.

According to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Yankees are going to be “serious players” for the 24-year-old right-hander this winter as they attempt to fill holes in their starting rotation. The team has done their homework here, as they sent assistant general manager Billy Eppler and scout Don Wakamatsu to watch him extensively this season. It’s safe to say they liked what they saw, as Tanaka went 22-0 with a 1.23 ERA during the regular season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League.

Known for his devastating splitter, Tanaka is widely considered the best pitcher in Japan now that Yu Darvish is in the states and at least one scout thinks that he might actually be better.

“He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower,’’ the scout said. “Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.’’

High praise. Like Darvish, Tanaka would have to go through the posting process in order to sign with an MLB team. The Rangers paid $60 million to secure exclusive negotiating rights with Darvish two offseasons ago and eventually signed him to a six-year, $51.7 million contract. A posting fee for Tanaka wouldn’t count towards a team’s payroll, which is something to keep in mind with the Yankees attempting to stay under $189 million next season.

Of course, the Yankees will have plenty of competition for Tanaka’s services. King hears from one source that the usual suspects like the Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers will also be in the mix.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.