Masahiro Tanaka will help, but the Yankees need much more than him to be a contender

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The offseason distorts things. The wintertime focus on individual player signings and the underlying optimism everyone seems to have about the prospects of their local nine often makes us forget that, in baseball, one player cannot make the difference between winning and losing. Heck, sometimes even three players don’t. Just ask Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and thousands of disappointed Angels fans these past couple of seasons.

Which isn’t to say that Masahiro Tanaka was a bad signing for the Yankees. Anything but. The Yankees had serious issues in their rotation and Tanaka was, by far, the best pitcher available on the open market. Tanaka’s presence will dramatically improve the Bombers’ rotation even if his numbers pale compared to the video game stats he posted in Japan this past season.

But before Yankees fans clear their October calendars in favor of watching a deep playoff run, they need to remember that, despite the nearly half a billion dollars the Steinbrenners have devoted to free agents this offseason, their local nine still has a lot of holes.

Mariano Rivera is gone and, though David Robertson is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, one does not simply replace the greatest of all time. Maybe more to the point, with Robertson moving in to the closer’s role, the rest of the bullpen is thrust into flux. Lefty Matt Thornton was a nice pickup, but New York could really use another solid reliever.

The infield could be a much bigger problem. Heck, if things break bad it could be a hot mess. Mark Teixeira’s wrist, which kept him out of the entire 2013 season, is already giving him some problems, with MLB.com reporting earlier this week that he’s likely to have a late start to spring training as a result. Derek Jeter is back, but he is no safe bet to be healthy and/or effective at his advanced age. His fill-in — Brendan Ryan — is a slick fielder but worthless at the plate. And he may be covering second base anyway if Brian Roberts, imported from Baltimore, is unable to shake the durability issues he’s had for the past several years. Finally, while everyone is happy that A-Rod is gone, third base is a question mark. Kelly Johnson hasn’t played much third in his career., and he may need to cover first base if Teixeira is gimpy.

That sound you hear is Stephen Drew’s agent clearing his schedule to take meetings with Brian Cashman. Or, if Cashman is smart, it should be.

Even before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees addition of Brain McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran made them better. But there’s no escaping the fact that this was an 85-win team last year which arguably overachieved to get even that far (their Pythagorean expectation was 79 wins). To compete with the defending world champ Red Sox and the always pesky Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees needed to improve significantly.

There is no question that the Tanaka signing is a significant upgrade to the rotation. But to the extent anyone says it “buys the Yankees a championship” or anything close to it, they’re ignoring the fact that an awful lot has to go right for this team, as currently constructed, to even be assured of the playoffs. They’re a reliever, an infielder (or two) and a couple of bounceback years from some aging veterans away from printing playoff tickets.

Sometimes all of those things break just right. They’re not the sort of things people wager a lot of money on, however.

Bob Costas wins the Ford C. Frick Award

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Bob Costas has been selected as the 2018 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Costas will be recognized during the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 28, as part of Hall of Fame Weekend. He’s the 42nd winner of the Frick Award.

Costas — who, by way of obvious disclosure, has worked for NBC for the past 37 years — began broadcasting baseball in 1982, when he was paired first with Sal Bando and then with Tony Kubek for NBC’s Game of the Week telecasts. He soon established himself as the top national broadcaster in the game throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. He worked play-by-play for NBC through 1993 and continued in that role for The Baseball Network, which was a short-lived joint venture between NBC and ABC for national broadcasting rights. During this time he was the pregame and postgame host for the All-Star Games and the World Series, with Vin Scully typically doing lead play-by-play.

Costas would move into doing play-by-play for these jewel events in the 1990s first for The Baseball Network and then, when The Baseball Network dissolved, for NBC, which had re-acquired baseball rights on its own. Costas called the World Series for NBC in 1997 and 1999, the 1998 and 2000 ALCS, the 1999 NLCS and the 2000 All-Star Game. After that Fox took over national broadcast rights which it still retains. Costas continues to appear on MLB Network, where he hosts a regular interview show titled MLB Network Studio 42 with Bob Costas and hosts other special programming. He likewise continues to work the booth for several games a year alongside color man Jim Katt, most recently in the 2017 postseason.

Those are the details, all of which are more than sufficient for a Frick Award winner’s resume. Costas, however, is far more deeply associated with baseball than the bare facts of his broadcasting assignments would suggest.

In many ways, Costas has served as baseball’s unofficial voice and conscience over the years. A lot of people write baseball books, but Costas’ 2000 book — Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball — was a must-read given Costas’ stature and respect among the game’s most important figures, and it continues to be cited whenever people talk about potential changes to the game. Indeed, Costas himself was even suggested by some as a potential Commissioner of Baseball candidate around the time of its publication, based largely on its ideas.

In 1995 Costas delivered the eulogy at Mickey Mantle’s funeral. His words — especially the line describing Mantle as “a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic” — became instant history. He’d later be called on to deliver the eulogy at Stan Musial’s funeral as well. Given that Costas is a historian and fan of the game just as much as he is a broadcaster of it, he will no doubt continue to be called upon as an authority about the game and its place in 20th and 21st century society.

In more recent years Costas’ highest profile assignments have been hosting NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage and anchoring its Olympic coverage. Given that neither NBC nor MLB Network have featured the League Championship Series or the World Series over the past decade and a half or so, it’s easy to forget — and understandable for younger people to not know — that Costas was, unquestionably, the national broadcast voice of Major League Baseball for two decades. For fans of a certain age — including this author’s age — Costas’ voice is synonymous with Major League Baseball.

The Frick Award is often awarded posthumously or after the broadcaster in question retires. It likewise often goes to people whose accomplishments are limited to their words in the broadcast booth. Costas, however, shows no signs of stopping and will likely continue to broadcast baseball games for several years. However long he continues to go, his impact and legacy in baseball is undeniable. He is, without question, a worthy recipient of the Frick Award.