The signing of Masahiro Tanaka gives the New York Yankees a potential ace, a boost to their popularity in Japan and another high-priced superstar who is sure to draw big crowds across the country.
It also gives them a shot at doing something no MLB team has ever done before.
David Waldstein of the New York Times writes that the signing of Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million contract means the Yankees could have four Japanese players on their roster come Opening Day. It would be the first time in MLB history that that has happened.
New York already has Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda on its roster, and the Yankees invited former Rangers reliever Yoshinori Tateyama to Spring Training. Assuming that each man makes the roster, avoids injury and is not traded, the Yankees would make history.
The Boston Red Sox had four Japanese players on their roster for a few days in September 2009 (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito and Junichi Tazawa), but no team has done it on Opening Day. The Texas Rangers recently had three Japanese players on their roster -- Tateyama, Yu Darvish and Koji Uehara.
Such a conglomeration of Japanese players, plus their collective star power (Ichirio is likely a Hall of Famer, Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in Japan), should create for a media circus at Spring Training.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told Waldstein the team is ready for the hype.
“We’ve had players from Japan before,” Cashman said. "We've had many players from the Dominican Republic at one time, or from Venezuela. So we are used to it. Once they put on the pinstripe jersey, they are all from the same place. They are Yankees."