The New York Yankees spent like the Yankees of old Wednesday, agreeing to sign Masahiro Tanaka to the biggest contract ever obtained by a Japanese import.
Terms: Seven years, $155 million with player opt-out clause after year four. Yankees send $20-million release fee to Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles.
2013 stats: 24-0, 1.27 ERA, 212 innings, 183 strikeouts, 32 walks, 168 hits, 6 home runs (in Japan’s NPB)
Draft implications: Not linked to draft pick compensation
Analysis: Let’s start with the money. The $155-million commitment surprised some industry observers, though Tanaka’s decision to choose the Yankees did not. Committing $155 million plus a $20-million posting fee for a pitcher who has never pitched at the MLB level shows that MLB teams value youth and are increasingly willing to bet that Japanese players can successfully transition to MLB.
Credit agent Casey Close for obtaining an opt-out clause and a no-trade clause in the deal. The opt-out gives Tanaka the flexibility to move on or renegotiate four seasons from now in addition to the $155-million guarantee. It has become a signature addition of Close’s of late; he has also obtained the opt-out clauses for Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. MLB player agents predict that this won’t be the last we see of the clause.
Eventually this deal will help set the market for Max Scherzer, Homer Bailey and Jon Lester. All three are positioned to ask for free agents deals worth well in excess of $100 million when they hit the open market a year from now.
More immediately, the Tanaka deal allows the rest of the off-season to get moving. Expect negotiations for the likes of Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza to pick up in the coming days. Zero major deals were completed during the four weeks of Tanaka’s availability, but all involved have likely waited around for long enough by now.
Roster impact: The Yankees look like a contender now, but they’re by no means a lock for the post-
season. Even after adding Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to deals that cost a total approaching $500 million, the Yankees must compete with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees did manage to create some separation between themselves and the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, two teams that have had particularly quiet off-seasons to date.
With Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Brian Roberts projected as everyday infielders, the Yankees have plenty of injury questions on their roster. They’ve added significant depth this winter, and there’s a good chance they’ll have to use it.
Tanaka joins C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and David Phelps in the team’s projected rotation. The addition deepens the staff enough to relegate the rehabbing Michael Pineda to the bullpen or the minor leagues.
Once the Yankees complete the deal their payroll will exceed baseball’s $189 million luxury tax — a threshold they worked for years to avoid. Yet they don’t sound concerned. “If it wasn’t for revenue sharing, we’d have a payroll of $300 million a year if we wanted to. So we’re doing this despite having to pay all that revenue sharing,” Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner told the Associated Press. Those comments suggest that the luxury tax operates as a soft cap to some extent, limiting how much ownership will spend.
All things considered: The Yankees put the finishing touch on a George Steinbrenner-esque off-season by adding the best pitcher available. He’s more expensive than anticipated, but 25-year-old top-of-the-rotation starters don’t come cheap. As for Tanaka, he obtains a tremendous deal, joining a competitive team with a deal that offers both security and the flexibility to opt out.