Paying $155 million for a pitcher who has never faced a batter in a Major League game? And I thought it was risky to pay $25 to some kid to shovel my driveway without ever seeing his prior work. Turns out, he did a nice job. On the baseball field, Masahiro Tanaka's prior work includes dominating in Japan. His task moving forward will be to do the same to Major League hitters while helping the Yankees win, at least, their 28th World Series championship. Anything less will be considered a failure. This 25-year-old Japanese righty tops the list of players with something to prove in 2014.
Here are five other players who need to quiet the critics when the season begins:
Ryan Braun: What's real, what's fake? Hard to know when you consider Braun's career. Since Braun failed a drug test administered in the 2011 postseason, his entire body of work dating back to his college days at the University of Miami has been called into question. Those who choose to believe that the former National League MVP Award winner was a victim of a flawed drug-testing system finally saw the light when Braun accepted a 65-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. The Brewers still owe him more than $100 million. He's still the best player on the team. Braun is only 30 years old. Spring Training is where and when he must begin to mend fences in earnest with his teammates, management and the loyal fans who deserve much better than to spend their hard-earned money to watch an athlete who has cheated the game. If he can't bear that load he may want to call Bobby Bonilla and borrow some earplugs. Braun will hear about his malfeasance in every city he plays. It will be loud.
Robinson Cano: Cano may have taken his All-Star abilities 3,000 miles away from the media capital of the world in New York to Seattle, but he won't be able to escape the microscope. When you close one eye and look at Cano under the lens you'll see a second baseman for the ages. What you don't yet see is a franchise player who wants the cameras in front of his locker during the tough times. You don't yet see a player who is the face of a franchise. You don't yet see a player who is able to carry a team on his back through the postseason. Cano has that opportunity now. He also has a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars. It's time for Cano to prove he's a leading man and not just a great player between the white lines.
Josh Hamilton: Here's the good news: Hamilton will have a hard time not improving on a bitterly disappointing 2013. In his first year with the Angels, Hamilton lacked luster and looked lost much of the time. His .224 first-half average and .283 on-base percentage were alarmingly bad. Hamilton went from being perhaps the best all-around player in the game early in 2012, to an albatross in Anaheim the following year. He's added roughly 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. Hamilton is also attempting to improve his functional movement, which in turn may help restore his once-sweet swing. Hamilton has proved in years past he can manage his personal demons to become a baseball star. In 2014, he'll need to prove he's capable of maintaining that status.
Yasiel Puig: Last we saw Puig, it was through the lens of a police car dashboard camera. The Dodgers right fielder was being handcuffed for driving over 100 mph on a Florida highway. In October, he was being lambasted by much of the sports media for showboating in the NL Championship Series. Simply put, Puig's phenomenal physical tools don't seem to match the maturity level. If Puig is going to take the next step and become a franchise-type player, he needs to learn from his on- and off-field mistakes. Playing in Hollywood for a club with a payroll that exceeds $200 million, the cameras will document his every move. Fair or unfair, it's reality. Puig needs to prove he can handle that pressure without embarrassing a proud and storied franchise.
Troy Tulowitzki: The conversation starts the same way every time. Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball ... if he's healthy. The problem is that Tulo is rarely healthy. The last time he played 140 or more games in a season was in 2011. If fact, Tulowitzki has only played in 140-plus games in three of the seven full seasons he's spent in the Majors. For a franchise player, that's just not acceptable. While Tulo has nothing to prove in the talent department -- his stats through his age-28 season compare with Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Gary Carter and Barry Larkin -- he has everything to prove when it comes to staying on the field through the long grind. If Colorado is to once again become relevant, it must have Tulo on the field. The production will take care of itself.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb.