Masahiro Tanaka intro is 'Yankee big'

February 11, 2014, 2:20 PM

— -- NEW YORK -- Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was introduced by the New York Yankees on Tuesday to a media contingent nearly 200 strong, the franchise's largest news conference for a new player in more than a decade.

"This is Yankee big," general manager Brian Cashman said. "This is Steinbrenner big."

When manager Joe Girardi handed Tanaka his No. 19 jersey and cap, camera flashes snapped rapid fire. Tanaka, who speaks limited English, stepped to the podium.

"Hello, my name is Masahiro Tanaka," he said in English. "I'm very happy to be a Yankee."

Then he nodded and offered a broad smile.

Answering questions through his translator, Tanaka would have made the late George Steinbrenner smile when he said his No. 1 goal is to win a championship.

Tanaka arrives with a seven-year, $155 million contract and high expectations. He went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the Japanese League in 2013. His splitter, according to many scouts, is one of the best in baseball. He will need to adjust to a larger ball and pitching every five days instead of once a week, as well as myriad cultural differences.

The Yankees have had two previous Japanese pitchers with big expectations. Both the late Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa were disappointments. Tanaka said he had heard that New York can be "harsh" if he does not perform but looks forward to the challenge.

Cashman said Tuesday he thought about Steinbrenner and how The Boss would love the worldwide attention that the 25-year-old Tanaka's signing has generated.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner is the one who authorized the outlay.

"We needed another quality starter," Steinbrenner said. "Tanaka is one of the greatest in the history of Japan."

Tanaka joins a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. The fifth starter spot will be a competition between Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren.

Last week on ESPN Radio, Cashman said Tanaka could be a solid "No. 3 starter."

Steinbrenner was asked if that would be worth the $155 million.

"It is a projection," Steinbrenner said.

After the news conference, Cashman said that despite Tanaka's contract, it is only fair to expect a No. 3 starter initially, but perhaps one day he could become a No. 2 or an ace.

On Tuesday, the Yankees issued nearly 200 credentials for the news conference, which is double the number for the free-agent signing gatherings for Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Team spokesman Jason Zillo said it was the largest news conference the Yankees have held since Hideki Matsui was introduced in Times Square in 2003. Matsui helped recruit Tanaka in January by telling him about the benefits of living and playing in New York.

Tanaka arrived in New York on Monday after reportedly paying $195,000 to charter a 787 Japan Airlines jet. Tanaka reportedly reserved the whole plane for himself, his wife, Japanese pop singer Mai Satoda, three friends and Tanaka's toy poodle.

"The reason why I chartered was I thought about my conditioning and I wanted to get here in the best position possible," Tanaka said.

The haggling between Major League Baseball and the Japanese League over a new posting system became drawn out throughout the winter and ended up greatly favoring Tanaka. Under the old system, the posting fee would have been much larger -- maybe more than three times the $20 million the Yankees ponied up -- and Tanaka's contract likely would have been about $100 million less.

During a meeting in January, the Yankees presented Tanaka with why they thought he would be a good fit.

The eight-person Yankees contingent, which included team president Randy Levine, left the get-together impressed.

"He reminds us a lot of Matsui," Levine said. "When we went to L.A. and met him and said, 'This is where you need to be. You are a great star. The biggest franchise. The biggest brand. The biggest city.' He said there were some other teams that wanted him to transition. He didn't like that. He wanted to take the ball on Day 1. That told us a lot about him."

Tanaka will report to the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa, Fla., by Friday, when pitchers and catchers are due.