Masahiro Tanaka will get the chance to write his own Yankee legacy beginning this spring. But deserved or not, he’ll be compared with his fellow countrymen who have pitched in pinstripes. Here’s a look back at the four other Japanese pitchers the Yankees have sent to the mound.
HIDEKI IRABU (1997-99)
Two years after Hideo Nomo started turning heads with the Dodgers, the Yankees took a chance on a strikeout machine from Japan’s Pacific League and gave Irabu a four-year, $12.8 million deal. It backfired, with the man George Steinbrenner once called a “fat toad” accruing a 4.80 ERA over three seasons, mostly as a starter. He was traded to the Montreal Expos after the 1999 season and never improved before returning to Japan in 2003. Tragically, Irabu committed suicide in July 2011 at age 42.
KEI IGAWA (2007-08)
Those who thought the Irabu deal was a bust must remember the terrible contract the Yankees gave to Igawa. After posting a 2.97 ERA and striking out 194 hitters in Japan’s Central League, Igawa signed a five-year, $20 million deal after the Yankees put in the highest posting bid ($26 million). He was nothing short of disastrous, appearing in 16 games (13 starts) and running up a demonic ERA of 6.66 over two seasons. He spent the remainder of his contract in the minors and is back pitching in Japan at age 34.
HIROKI KURODA (2012-present)
In signing Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal after the 2011 season, the Yankees at least knew they were getting a four-year starting pitcher from the Dodgers who proved he could hang against MLB hitters. Kuroda has been one of the team’s best pitchers over the past two years, with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Plus, he tallied at least 150 strikeouts in each season. He returns this year on a one-year, $16 million contract.
RYOTA IGARASHI (2012)
Better known for his Mets tenure in 2010 and 2011, Igarashi had a cup of coffee in the Bronx. It consisted of two outings, three innings and four runs allowed. Now 34 years old, he returned to Japan last year and notched a 2.53 ERA over 51 relief appearances in the Pacific League.