Major League Preview: Yankees back on top after adding Tanaka

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The evil empire strikes again.  The New York Yankees took advantage of free agency this offseason, adding over $400 million in payroll.

This winter’s bounty included big names, but began rather alarmingly for the organization.  The starting center fielder, Curtis Granderson, decided to go next door to the Mets.  Shortly after, second baseman Robinson Cano, the most treasured of all free agents on the market, departed to Seattle for $240 million.

Then it was the Yankees’ turn to respond.

The Pinstripes replaced Granderson by signing Jacoby Ellsbury, once again stealing away a prominent outfielder from their regional and national rival, the Boston Red Sox.  Next was Carlos Beltran fresh off of his first World Series appearance and, though 36, excited about an opportunity to show the cross-town Mets they should have treated him better.

Next, the Pinstripes added their first viable replacement after losing catcher Jorge Posada:  Brian McCann.

Once it came time to add to the starting rotation, the Yankees had only one option in mind.  In typical Madison Avenue fashion, they landed Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, a seven-year commitment for $155 million.

Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his last season in Japan.  He’s a power thrower, 6-2, 205 pounds, and projects to be the best Japanese pitcher ever to reach the major leagues.

Still, questions burn over what impact he will have on a clubhouse that’s always under siege by media.  Many a Yankees team has been undone by chemistry blowups, invariably stirred by journalists.   And now the media corps is buttressed by 30 reporters from Japan, with dozens more expected to follow.

Mike Peters, an interpreter for Japanese players in America, told the New York Times that the rookie will be ably mentored by 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter behind Tanaka and CC Sabathia.  “Kuroda has heen through it all.  He has made the adjustments to the major leagues, and Tanaka can learn from that.”

The more difficult adjustment will be the ones the American League must make to deal with a Yankees team that has reinvented itself after finishing 12 games behind Boston in the AL East.

Despite the loss of Cano and Granderson and the retirement of the game’s most esteemed closer, Mariano Rivera, this team should surpass its lackluster performances over the past couple of seasons.  David Robertson (5-1, 2.04 ERA in 70 games) seems ready to step up from his setup role, and there are other strong arms, young and old, to fill the rotation and bullpen.

Ellsbury, who led the league last season with 52 stolen bases, brings speed and average to the leadoff spot.  Beltran will take pressure off Mark Teixeira, giving him protection in this new lineup.

Alex Rodriguez leaving this team is the best thing that has happened to the Yankees since their last World Series title.  Third baseman Kelly Johnson, yet another free-agent acquisition, won’t hit like A-Rod, but he won’t cause disruption.  If Rodriguez stays away from the organization, this renewed dynasty can focus on the task at hand – winning the American League East and once again contending for a World Series championship.

Looking at the Major Leagues in Spring Training

American League

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National League

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