The World Series Trophy on Tour

Koji and Junichi took the World Series Trophy to Japan and met with the new US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Here they are looking super-psyched:


What I found most interesting though were the other people who showed up for the event but that many US papers did not include in their coverage. Beside Wally the Green Monster, others present were Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the US (he played for the Yankees), Hideki Matsui, 2009 World Series MVP and former Yankee, and Seiji Ozawa, conductor and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koji and Junichi also met with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who got a signed Red Sox jersey.

The Red Sox have done a pretty good job pressing their team image into the minds of Japanese fans. The Sox just started up a Japanese Twitter page called RedSox_JP, signed numerous Japanese ball players in the past decade, and have established a Red Sox – Japan Youth Baseball Exchange. This past summer some young Japanese ball players visited Boston and stayed for ten days with families in Boston; it is sponsored by Funai Electric and the Red Sox Foundation.  My connection is tenuous but still something. The exchange program is coupled with the Little League baseball league my son played in and I coached – Hill House Boston. We moved on from Little League just as it was starting up but it certainly seems like a fun way to get to visit and learn about Japan.

The timing of this trophy trip made me wonder if the Sox might actually have more then a cursory interest in Masahiro Tanaka. That thought lasted about three seconds. Then the newswire erupted. ESPN reported that the Yankees signed Tanaka to a seven year, $155 million dollar deal.  Wow! I guess all that talk about the Yankees trying to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold was a bunch of hooey.

The Yankees just got markedly better with this signing as Tanaka compares favorably with Yu Darvish, another NPB import. Here are the stats for the two pitchers for their last three years in Japan:

  1. Yu Darvish, 616 IP, 45-19, 1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 665 Ks
  2. Masahiro Tanaka, 611 1/3 IP, 53-9, 1.44 ERA , 0.94 WHIP, 593 Ks

This looks pretty similar to me. I would not be surprised to see Tanaka excel like Darvish has with the Rangers the last two years. Here is a quick reminder of Darvish’s first two seasons in the majors, at about the same age Tanaka will be:

2012 25 TEX 16 9 3.90 29 0 191.1 156 89 83 14 89 221 112 1.280
2013 26 TEX 13 9 2.83 32 0 209.2 145 68 66 26 80 277 145 1.073
2 Yrs 29 18 3.34 61 0 401.0 301 157 149 40 169 498 127 1.172
162 Game Avg. 16 10 3.34 34 0 224 168 88 83 22 94 278 127 1.172
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

While the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson this off-season, the additions of McCann, Ellsbury and Tanaka will put the Yankees right back in the running. Well, that might be a bit overblown. They still have holes at second (Brian Roberts – a walking M*A*S*H Unit) and third (Kelly Johnson – a 31 year old with some pop but low OBP), and until Jeter proves he can manage short I find the Yankees suspect there as well. Their pitching is much better with this signing and it makes them much younger. They go from having the oldest pitching staff in the AL to probably somewhere in the middle and their league average ERA will most definitely improve. Their offense, though, has not improved enough, in my opinion, owing mostly to the loss of Cano. They were below the league average in runs per game (4.01 v. 4.33 league average v. 5.27 for the Red Sox), second to last in home runs and third to last in OPS+ while fielding the oldest team in the majors. I think McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran about equal out the loss of Cano and Granderson.

Quite honestly, I don’t see things getting a whole lot better for the Yankees without some serious input from Jeter and Teixeira. Those guys need to return to form. I find that unlikely with regards to Jeter (39) but possible for Teixeira (33). Perhaps the Yankees hope Teixeira will be like another switch hitting first baseman – Baltimore Oriole legend Eddie Murray. Murray, though, was a perennial work horse, never really missing any games for injury until he was 40. Teixeira can not really be compared to Murray.

After a little research, I found that Teixeira compares pretty favorably to Orlando Cepeda. This should be worrisome for Yankees fans, as Cepeda was a shell of himself after his year 32 season; he was a Hall of Fame player before then but knee injuries curtailed his career thereafter. Teixeira does not have knee issues, but I’ve always seen him as a balky back kinda guy who can end up on the DL one morning after a bad night’s sleep. No science to support me here, just gut instinct. I like Teixeira but I would be worried about him if I were a Yankee fan.

Yankees fans, though, are happy today; it’s like Christmas day all over again! They are back in the hunt with the signing of Tanaka. Yet, caution is warranted. The Yankees are far from out of the woods. I still don’t see them making the playoffs unless a lot of things go right on the health front. With an aging team that is not something I’d want to take with me on a trip to Vegas.


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