On Jan. 22, the New York Yankees and Japanese free agent starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract, according to Andre Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. They are hoping that Tanaka and a healthy Michael Pineda could lead the Yankees to their 28th World Series title.
The Yankees missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. Yankees’ principal owner Hal Steinbrenner spent $465 million this past offseason, according to Ted Berg of USA Today, to try to bring a World Series title to the Bronx.
This includes Steinbrenner spending $155 million on Tanaka.
This is an exclamation point that’s been made today that our work was not complete or finished in terms of trying to put in a team that people could at least talk about having a shot to take a run at qualifying for the playoffs and playing into October,” Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman said to Marchand.
Tanaka will try to revamp the Yankees’ rotation from a good rotation to a great one. The final spot, fifth, in the rotation is up for grabs, according to Marchand.
The pitchers that are competing for the final spot in the rotation are Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. The winner of that competition will join C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka and Ivan Nova in the rotation.
Below is a projection of the Yankees’ 2014 rotation.
1. C.C. Sabathia: Despite a ‘disappointing’ season, C.C. Sabathia has been the New York Yankees’ ace since they signed him on Dec. 11, 2008, according to ESPN.com. They brought Sabathia in to be the team’s ace and he has done a very good job of that. He helped the Yankees win a World Series in 2009 and has a 88-42 record in five seasons with the team. Last season was a disappointing one for Sabathia. He finished last season with a 14-13 record and a 4.78 Earned Run Average, ERA. Sabathia lost 40 pounds, 315 to 275, this past offseason in hopes of rebounding from last season, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.
I think it was just losing that much weight and trying to play a professional sport,” Sabathia told Matthews. “I probably did it the wrong way going into a baseball season last year. I was joking in there with [trainer Stevie Donohue] that I felt like ‘The Biggest Loser’ last year.
I lost a lot of weight, but I wasn’t physically ready to go out and play. So this year was just all about training and getting ready to play.”
Sabathia will be the Yankees’ Opening Day starter against the Houston Astros on Apr. 1, according to Matthews.
2. Hiroki Kuroda: Hiroki Kuroda has been a very good starting pitcher for the Yankees the past two seasons. He has a 27-24 record with a 3.31 ERA. The Yankees’ re-signed Kuroda to a one-year, $16 million contract on Dec. 6, 2013, according to CBS New York’s website. At 39-years-old, this could be his final season in Major League Baseball, MLB. He was the Yankees’ second pitcher in the rotation last season and he should have the same role this season.
3. Masahiro Tanaka: As aforementioned, the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract this past offseason. Tanaka had tremendous success in the Japanese Pacific League for seven season. This includes a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA. He is hoping to continue to have success in the MLB. Kuroda has decided to mentor Tanaka, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
“He’s my teammate,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “Whatever he needs, I will help him.” This includes Kuroda telling Tanaka to “be himself,” according to Feinsand.
It is unknown who Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi will choose for the third spot in his rotation between Tanaka and Ivan Nova. Tanaka is a more ‘established’ pitcher than Nova, but he has never pitched in a MLB game before.
The Yankees are hoping that Tanaka is not the next ‘Kei Igawa.’
They signed Igawa to a five-year, $20 million contract on Dec. 27, 2006. In two seasons, Igawa had a 2-4 record with a 6.66 ERA.
Kuroda appears to be confident in Tanaka’s ability to successfully transition to the MLB, according to Feinsand.
Stuff-wise, I’m confident that he’s going to do well here,” Kuroda, whose final year in Japan was Tanaka’s rookie season. “The potential problem is how he gets acclimated in the culture of the major leagues. That’s going to be the key.”
4. Ivan Nova: Ivan Nova has had mixed success as a starting pitcher for the Yankees. He has had two really good seasons and two bad seasons. This includes a 9-6 record with a 3.10 ERA last season. He is hoping to build on his great success in the second half of last season. Nova had a 5-4 record with a 2.78 ERA in 13 second half starts. Yankees’ manager Girardi said on Saturday that Nova would be a member of the Yankees’ rotation. Girardi’s words have not changed Nova’s mindset for Spring Training, according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.
No,” the 27-year-old said Sunday morning. “I still have the same mindset.”
That mindset? “Nothing is sure. You have to keep fighting to keep your spot.”
Nova’s mindset could lead to him having a ‘breakout’ season. He will most likely the number four pitcher in the rotation.
5. Michael Pineda: As aforementioned, Michael Pineda is competing against three other pitchers for the final spot in the rotation. Pineda has the greatest potential and risk based on his success with the Seattle Mariners and his injury-plagued seasons with the Yankees. In his rookie season, 2011, he had a 9-10 record with a 3.74 ERA. It appeared that he could form a dominant one-two punch with Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez. On Jan. 14, 2012, the Yankees traded top prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi for Pineda, according to ESPNNewYork.com. Pineda sustained a shoulder injury during the 2012 Spring Training, according to Nathan Aderhold of SBNation. He ended up having his shoulder surgically repaired, according to Marchand. This led to numerous setbacks and a few rehabilitation starts this past season, according to Aderhold. Pineda achieved some success in those starts and is hoping to earn the final spot in the Yankees’ rotation. He told Marchand that his shoulder is fine and “I’m the same Michael Pineda (from his rookie season).” Yankees’ manager Girardi appeared to be optimistic about Pineda’s initial Spring Training bullpen session, according to Marchand.
I thought the ball was coming out easier (than in 2011),” Girardi said of Pineda’s 35 pitches. “I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. It didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it.”
Pineda’s production during Spring Training will most likely make or break his chances of winning the final rotation spot. If he falters this Spring, then Phelps will most likely earn that spot.
The Yankees are hoping to end a four-year World Series drought this season; last title was in 2009. Tanaka and Pineda could significantly influence the team’s chances of bringing a World Series title back to the Bronx.