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.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉