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All eyes will be on Masahiro Tanaka in spring training

Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles speaks

Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles speaks to the press at the Rakuten stadium in Sendai, northern Japan, on Jan. 23, 2014 about signing with the Yankees. Credit: Getty Images

The Yankees, to use a phrase of Brian Cashman's when it comes to young talent, are "dreaming big" on Masahiro Tanaka.

And why not?

The 25-year-old Japanese righthander has known almost nothing but stardom in his professional career, topping out last year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and led his team to the Japan Series title.

But Cashman also is resolute that those dreams won't be realized, or torpedoed for that matter, in spring training.

"It doesn't matter what we see in the spring to some degree," Cashman said Friday. "There will be some adjustments, growing pains, knocking the rust off. If he nails it, you can't get overly excited; if he doesn't, you can't get too down about it. Spring training is real tough to judge."

But make no mistake. The Yankees made Tanaka their top free-agent target when the offseason began and got their man in mid-January with a winning bid of $155 million over seven years.

"I think it was a chance the Yankees had to take," YES analyst and former Yankee pitcher David Cone said last week at the 34th annual Thurman Munson awards dinner.

The Yankees were desperate for starting pitching, but in recent years, they had been reticent about offering big money to big names on the international front. They chose not to bid high on players such as Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes, both of whom received high marks from the Yankees' talent evaluators.

There are no guarantees with any international star and there isn't with Tanaka, though few scouts think he will be a bust along the lines of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, pitchers on whom the Yankees spent significantly with little return, another reason they'd been skittish on the international market.

There's almost universal belief that Tanaka will be a productive major-league pitcher; it's just a matter of whether he settles in the front of the rotation or the back.

The consensus of most talent evaluators is that Tanaka might not be quite as good as Darvish, but something close.

Some have said Tanaka's splitter is the best in the world. Based on what he's seen, Cone -- who threw a pretty good one himself -- said that's not complete hyperbole.

"I don't know if it's the best split-finger fastball in the world, but it's certainly among the top five right now," Cone said. "He has that kind of talent in terms of velocity and movement.

"When you look at a split-finger fastball, having thrown it for most of my career, I look at how late it breaks, the late movement and the velocity it retains, and he has both of those. He has high velocity and late movement on that splitter, which puts it among the best in the world."

After working out Friday in Tampa at the Yankees' minor- league complex, Derek Jeter said he's excited about Tanaka's arrival.

"I've heard a little bit, but, you know, Andruw [Jones] played with him over in Japan," Jeter said of his teammate in 2011-12. "I've heard that he was good. Yeah, I think everyone's curious. Everything they say about him has been all positive. Any time you add pitching, it's going to help us out."

With Bryan Burns in Tampa


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