Masahiro Tanaka: The Brewers’ Pipe Dream


While the vast majority of big signings this offseason will occur with your higher market teams, let’s just step back and see if it were all possible for the Milwaukee Brewers to pursue Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.

After all, just last offseason the Brewers were apparently contending for Josh Hamilton who doesn’t have a cheap salary, so why not speculate on Tanaka?

Masahiro Tanaka was absolutely untouchable this season in Japan. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

The trend of Japanese starters coming to the United States and not doing well seems to be ending. Perhaps the most recent and stagnant example of that would be Hiroki Kuroda who has had six successful years in the States in two different leagues. Behind him sit the Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish and Seattle Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma. Next year, Tanaka could very well help in breaking that mold with a major league team and where better to start than in Milwaukee?

Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio has made public his intentions of continuing to eye pitching, whether it’s starting or relief. If the Brewers want to take a long hard look at their future, sure they can try to place faith in guys like Tyler Thornburg, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann and maybe Jed Bradley, but wouldn’t a proven professional pitcher be more enticing? Within the next few seasons Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo will be gone, leaving Wily Peralta and possibly Marco Estrada as the only two real options in the rotation. Tanaka would fit in perfectly, especially with an offense to support him.

Tanaka would not solve every starting pitching crisis the team runs into and there’s even the chance he could become a Kei Igawa type pitcher over here, but why worry about what could be? He’s only 25-years-old and has seven successful seasons in the Japanese leagues completed, much like Darvish when he came over here. If anything, Tanaka has been scouted much the same as Darvish was, but it seems Tanaka carries over a little more control over his pitches and walks less batters (a 1.9 BB/9 in Japan compared to Darvish’s 2.4).

For the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this season, Tanaka was absolutely lethal. Tanaka posted a record of 24-0 with an ERA of 1.27 in 27 starts (28 games total). He baffled hitters as his WHIP of 0.943 was the second lowest of his career. Tanaka also lobbed eight complete games, one of which was a shutout.

Yu Darvish has been successful so far in America. Can Tanaka find the same success? Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Really, looking at his numbers since his debut in 2007 with the Golden Eagles, he’s been one of Japan’s best pitchers hosting a career ERA of 2.30, a WHIP of 1.108 and a K/9 of 8.5 all in 172 starts. In the past, at least for American scouts, he was seen as the number two behind Darvish, but I don’t think that’s the case. Tanaka has built his own reputation as an ace and in Milwaukee, he could do absolute wonders. With the rotation that seems to be the only blemish, Tanaka’s presence could help this team rise to where they were two years ago, dangerously close to the Fall Classic.

Obviously the Brewers have had pitchers that have spoiled them before, namely C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke, but Tanaka is a bit different. If it were possible for the Brewers to strike a deal with him, they would have him for more than season and a half, at least I’m inclined to believe so. In reality though, Tanaka’s asking price is probably well out of the Brew Crew’s range, but Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin would have to at least be willing to listen to what he asks.

Of course, the posting system from Japan into America seems to be going over some renovations. The latest switch around with the system is that the players themselves may be able to choose a desired location and try to make a deal with a team. Who knows, maybe Milwaukee might spring up on Tanaka’s radar and if so, here’s hoping we could structure a deal with him.