Inbox: Will the Yanks place innings limits on Tanaka?
Beat reporter Bryan Hoch responds to fans' offseason questions
When Masahiro Tanaka announced his decision to join the Yankees, he also provided answers to some of the team's most pressing questions of the offseason, but there are still a few areas to be addressed. Let's dig in once more and see what's being talked about this week in the Yankees Inbox:
With the amount of innings Tanaka threw in Japan, do you think the Yankees will put a limit on how many innings he will pitch this season?
-- Mike H., New Haven, Conn.
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I wouldn't expect a reprise of the "Joba Rules" or anything approaching that, but there will be a lot of planning put into how Tanaka and the Yankees orchestrate this entire process. Keep in mind that it's not just the innings: Tanaka will be adjusting to pitching every fifth day instead of once a week, facing deeper lineups, using a more slippery Major League ball, pitching off clay mounds instead of the sand-based ones in Japan and working with a consistently tighter strike zone. There's a lot to absorb.
As you mentioned, the Yankees are well aware that Tanaka is arriving with a substantial workload under his belt. He has thrown 1,315 innings entering his age 25 season, and for comparison purposes, Felix Hernandez had the next highest total at that point -- 1,154 2/3. CC Sabathia had 972 2/3 with the Indians, and Clayton Kershaw had 944 with the Dodgers. That tells you there is risk involved. The Yanks say they feel good about the fact that Tanaka was brought along with care by the Rakuten Golden Eagles in his age 18-20 seasons, where there wasn't an alarming jump in his innings counts.
Tanaka has been a workhorse in the last three seasons for Rakuten, but that suggests to the Yankees that they should be receiving a pitcher who is physically ready to handle a regular workload of 180 to 200 innings. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will hammer out the exact details once everyone gets down to Florida, but the Yanks obviously wrote a big check to have Tanaka wearing their uniform. For that amount of cash, they'll want to have him on the mound as much as possible.
Here's how Yankees general manager Brian Cashman looks at Tanaka's past workload: "You always have concerns. That's always something you can't ignore or deny. But despite that, clearly [with] the competitive bidding on him, with his age, his talent, the scouting assessments on him and the pitching market the way it is -- it's certainly something [on which] we're willing to take the risk."
Can the Yankees still acquire the services of Stephen Drew as third baseman?
-- Glenn M., Curacao
The Yankees have been giving off smoke signals that the Tanaka signing represented their last big deal of the winter, and that their budget does not have the necessary room to add Drew's salary. There was a report last week that the Yanks were still kicking around the idea of making a run at Drew, who could shore up the infield at shortstop, third base or second base, but it doesn't look like they are ready to dig in for him. They've pulled off some late January/early February surprises before, but as of Monday morning, Drew and the Yankees do not appear to be a fit.
Do you think Tanaka will be third in the rotation to take pressure off him?
-- Fred L., Leesburg, Va.
That's a definite possibility. You can write in Sabathia for the Opening Day start, and it wouldn't be a shock to see manager Joe Girardi stick with Hiroki Kuroda as his No. 2. They could have Tanaka third, with Ivan Nova drawing the No. 4 slot. Maybe they'd even go with Nova at three and Tanaka at four, but that's something Girardi and Rothschild won't decide until late in camp. It all gets jumbled up eventually with off-days anyway. The Yankees open the schedule with 13 straight games, and no matter how they slice it, Tanaka would be getting the ball in one of the first two series. His first start could come in Houston or Toronto.
What are our backup options at first base if Mark Teixeira isn't healthy to start the year?
-- Nick T., Rhinebeck, N.Y.
As of this moment, that picture is a bit hazy. Kelly Johnson has played a little bit of first base in his career, but he's penciled in as a big part of the third-base mix right now. Russ Canzler recently signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees, and he could compete for a roster spot this spring. Canzler was someone that they were talking up last year before he was claimed on waivers by the Orioles.
Alfonso Soriano said last year that he'd be willing to try learning first base if he was asked, but the Yankees never got around to pressing that panic button. Perhaps Carlos Pena would come to camp on a Minor League deal; he's someone that the Yanks have tried to acquire in the past. They've also talked this winter with Michael Young, who could offer support at the infield corners.
Has there been any thought in moving Derek Jeter to third base, and playing Brendan Ryan at shortstop?
-- Charlie P., Normandy, Tenn.
We've been getting this question quite a bit in the wake of the Alex Rodriguez suspension. One Yankees person said last week that the idea of moving Jeter to third base has never been brought up internally, so there really isn't much more to say here. It may be a topic in some corners of the Internet, but that discussion doesn't seem to have cracked 161st Street. Unless Jeter's body says otherwise, he is being considered as the Yanks' starting shortstop.
What is the status of Michael Pineda for the upcoming season?
-- Tony F., Seneca Falls, N.Y.
This is worth revisiting now that Tanaka is in the fold. Pineda completed the year healthy and is expected to come into camp fighting for the fifth rotation spot, with David Phelps and Adam Warren serving as his main competition. Vidal Nuno could also get into that mix. Pineda has Minor League options remaining, so it's possible he could begin the year at Triple-A.
Pineda's health is the big factor; the Yankees believe that his shoulder issues are behind him, but there are no guarantees that they actually will be. He just needs innings at this stage. They'd like to finally get some big league use out of Pineda, and the Grapefruit League schedule will be a good opportunity to see what they are working with.
What about Travis Hafner?
-- Juan V., New York, N.Y.
Cashman has said that the Yankees do not want to carry a designated hitter-only player in 2014, considering their need to rotate the DH spot for players like Soriano, Jeter, Carlos Beltran and others. Hafner recently accepted a volunteer coaching position at Notre Dame College in Ohio, and though "Pronk" said he has not officially given up on playing in the big leagues, he won't be back for a second year in pinstripes.