There's something very traditional about the Yankees signing Masahiro Tanaka, a young, high-ceiling talent brought in for more money than other teams could muster. It's a throwback to the days of Yankees dominance before the draft and free agency when the mighty Yankees would pluck the finest talent from lower professional leagues to reinforce their mighty dynasties. This time around, the Yankees didn't have massive scouting and developmental resources in their favor, they just had to outspend their competitors the old fashioned way: putting the money right in Tanaka's pockets. Now the Yankees have the pleasure of having the highest-paid prospect in the history of Major League Baseball. A prospect complete and immediately ready for the show, but a prospect nevertheless.
Now, it might seem like a slight to refer to someone as accomplished thus far in his career as Tanaka is as a prospect. He's a champion coming off a sparkling 25-0 season and a run of several years of sustained brilliance. But he fits the description of the typical big-time prospect: he's young, he's talented, had great stats at his most recent level of competition and has zero MLB track record. The question is: will Tanaka be granted the opportunity to adjust to his new surroundings, or is he expected to be one of the best (if not the best) pitchers on the Yankees' entire staff as soon as he puts on the uniform for the first time?
Even the most ballyhooed of prospect doesn't come with the sort of fanfare that Tanaka will in 2014. In an offseason where the Yankees spent over 500 million dollars on on all manner of established stars, it will be Tanaka and his 155 million dollar contract that will stand above all the others. His visage will be shown all over the YES Network and is sure to grace every manner of merchandise the Yankee machine could think to produce. He'll be marketed as the Yankees' latest star, but will he be? It is fair to him to expect him to be, especially in his first MLB season?
It all makes for an incredibly unique situation, one that a fan encounters very rarely. Personally, I find it hard to keep my own expectations in check. You watch the videos, look at the stats and see the scouting reports. Part of my brain tells me that there is a very real possibility that, like many other prospects before him, Tanaka never becomes a star and fails to live up to the hype. For the most part I opt to ignore that logical inner voice and grin at the thought of Tanaka burying splitters into the bats of his overwhelmed opponents. It's just hard to rein in the excitement this kind of acquisition brings. Young talent like Tanaka's doesn't seem to come around the Bronx with much frequency anymore.
So, with all of the above in mind, where have you set your expectations for Masahiro Tanaka?