Yankees formally introduce Tanaka in Bronx
Global media audience gets first look at prized right-hander in pinstripes
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka landed in New York expecting bright lights and excitement. His Yankee Stadium introduction did not disappoint.
The prized right-hander had his first chance to try on Yankees pinstripes in the Bronx on Tuesday, smiling at the microphone during a news conference that was beamed from the Stadium's posh Legends Club to a global audience.
Tanaka announced his presence in English, saying, "Hello. My name is Masahiro Tanaka. I'm very happy to be a Yankee." He then fielded a series of questions from a room packed with more than 200 credentialed reporters from around the world.
With his seven-year, $155 million commitment to the Yankees officially underway, Tanaka fit seamlessly onto the company playbook. Donning a jersey with No. 19 stitched into the back, he said that he chose the Yanks because of their winning tradition.
"I wanted to come here and win," Tanaka said. "I wanted to come here and win the championship. The Yankees are a team that are always in that type of situation. I understand there's a lot of pressure here, but I wanted to come here and see how far I can go."
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine, general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and COO Lonn Trost were all in attendance. Steinbrenner said that with Tanaka, he believes the Yanks have a championship-caliber roster.
"We needed another quality starter, there's no doubt about that," Steinbrenner said. "He's one of the greatest in the history of Japan. He's got tremendous ability. We've scouted him all year. I know he's mentally tough because he's played on the big stage over there. He's played in very big games over there. He's going to be a great addition. He's got the toughness and the ability -- what more could you ask for?"
Tanaka's introduction was the Yankees' largest production for a news conference since they welcomed Hideki Matsui in 2003. To accommodate the media for that event, the team had to move the proceedings from the old Yankee Stadium down to Times Square.
"This is big. This is something I was thinking as I was driving in today, that this would make the Boss proud," Cashman said, referring to the late George Steinbrenner. "The Yankees, obviously, are always about trying to acquire the best talent, and talent that can compete for a championship.
"But he also liked the attention, and this certainly draws a lot of attention. This is Yankee big. This is Steinbrenner big."
Tanaka's deal was finalized on Jan. 22, and he had been working out in Sendai, Japan. With a work visa obtained, he arrived in New York in style, chartering a Boeing 787 Japan Airlines jet at a reported cost of $195,000.
Once on the ground, Tanaka said that his first meal in the Big Apple had been sushi from a grocery store. He and his wife, Mai Satoda, have also started dabbling with apartment shopping.
Yanks pitchers and catchers are due to report in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, with their first workout scheduled for Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. After going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League, Tanaka will likely slot behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation.
"We've talked about it," Girardi said. "We'll just kind of see how spring goes and how he reacts in Spring Training."
In recent days, Cashman has splashed cold water on the hype of Tanaka, suggesting that he could be a competent No. 3 starter in the big leagues. Cashman said Tuesday that he was trying to use the media to have "an honest, realistic dialogue" with the fan base.
"He's obviously got some risk because he's transitioning from Japan, so we've spoken about those difficult adjustments that are necessary," Cashman said. "He has a great deal of ability. We could be getting more than a [No.] 3. Maybe it's a [No.] 2. Maybe it's even a [No.] 1 at some point."
Asked about the No. 3 starter comment, Steinbrenner said: "I guess we'll have to see what becomes of that. It's a projection, right? We'll see. What I don't have a doubt about is that he's going to handle New York. He's going to like it here and he's going to do well here with the gifts that he has."
The Yankees' actions speak to their excitement about Tanaka's high-end talent; they scouted all of his home games last year and compiled detailed reports that suggest Tanaka can make the jump. But they also learned lessons the hard way through their missteps with players like Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.
Tanaka will be learning to pitch in a five-man rotation, facing stronger lineups and working with tighter strike zones. There are also differences with the mounds and the baseballs, but Tanaka said that he is ready for those challenges.
"When I take the mound, I feel that I like to win every single game," Tanaka said. "Being an ace is something that not myself, but other people label. What I want to do is go out there, compete and do my best."
The Yanks have had six other Japan-born players in franchise history: Irabu (1997-99), Matsui (2003-09), Igawa ('07-08), Kuroda ('12-13), Ryota Igarashi ('12) and Ichiro Suzuki ('12-13).
Tanaka spoke briefly with Matsui before he signed his contract, talking about the appeal of playing in New York, and he said that he's looking forward to sharing a clubhouse with Kuroda and Ichiro.
"I have been watching them since I was a kid, growing up, even before I joined professional baseball," Tanaka said. "I'm very honored to be able to be teammates with them and to be able to play with them."