When we all look back on the last few seasons in respect to our Astros, there’s not much to brag about. That’s a given. It’s been a long, arduous road. But thanks to Jeff Luhnow & Co., it appears to have ended. With this season’s acquisitions (Fowler, Crain, Albers, Qualls), and the promise of our highly touted farm system, the future is beginning to look brighter by the day.
That brings us to the remnants of the off-season leading up to the 2014 MLB season.
There are multiple free agents that are available, and for a team that had a payroll that barely eclipsed $20 million, there’s huge potential… with one obvious candidate at the top of everyone’s list. Masahiro Tanaka is the most sought after pitcher this off-season. He will command a massive contract and most likely is looking for 5-7 years, making him a “Face of the Franchise” type of player. His latest season for the Rakuten Eagles produced a 24-0 record with an immaculate 1.27 ERA. Not much else needs to be said about numbers like that.
Winning 20+ games isn’t out of the ordinary these days… but it’s not entirely common either. Having a pitcher like Tanaka gives you real, actual front of the rotation, ace material. The last time we had a pitcher capable of almost guaranteeing us a win every 5 games, Roy Oswalt was hurling strikes to Brad Ausmus and the Astros were perennial playoff contenders.
Think about that. It seems like it was so long ago that we were excited about baseball in Houston. In actuality, our last real shot at the playoffs was only six years ago, when we finished 86-75. You see? It’s really not all that bad. Can you imagine going 20 years without going over .500? Talk to Pittsburgh Pirates fans who went from 1993-2013 until they received sweet relief.
When you think about it like that, we’re almost lucky.
When you think about locking that rotation in for multiple years, you have to think ALL IN on Tanaka.
Also, the Astros will have to take in to account Tanaka’s workload over the course of his career. In Japan, they don’t seem to conserve their pitcher’s arms like they do in the MLB. Since the age of 18, which is when Tanaka began his professional career in 2007, he has averaged just over 187 innings pitched per season. Tanaka amassed a winning record of 99-35 (.739 W-L%) over the 7 seasons he’s pitched in Japan which is slightly better than his only comparable counterpart, Yu Darvish (93-38, .694 W-L%). While it’s a huge commitment of both time and money, the benefit would seemingly outweigh the risk.
Tanaka, being both young and extremely gifted will be an asset on any MLB team… that can drop the kind of coin it will take to land him. After the $20 million posting fee (which we have now found out will be spread over the course of two seasons), Tanaka may very well command a contract topping out at $150 million or more. There might be multiple teams willing to pay this amount, but there are few that should be willing to spend such money, regardless of talent level.
We have already heard that the Diamondbacks are committed to making a run at Tanaka. Other teams looking to make a run at him include the Cubs and Orioles. Wouldn’t it be nice if, including the Astros of course, those were the only teams showing interest in making a real run at the Japanese ace? Let’s just get this out of the way. The Yankees, Angels, and Dodgers will undoubtedly attempt to ruin the fun as well by taking on even more money in an attempt to buy a World Series. I’m not bitter. I’m just saying what you’re all thinking.
I’ve gone back and forth on this subject. It’s a huge amount of money to take on and we’ve not yet forgotten how a huge contract can negatively affect our team and our options (*COUGH Carlos Lee COUGH*). In this case though, I don’t think you can get away from the potential up-side that Tanaka can bring to our team.
Jeff Luhnow has uncharacteristically admitted that the Astros have inquired on Tanaka. In true Luhnow fashion, he will not reveal any more information. So we’re left to wonder until an announcement is made, or the stove heats up.
What do you guys think? Is Tanaka a player worth going all in on? We’ve got such potential on it’s way up from the farm system… do you think we should wait to bring in a marquee-style free agent to see what our own products look like?