The New York Yankees have officially signed Masahiro Tanaka, the off-season’s top available pitcher.
The contract, which was announced Wednesday after it was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, will guarantee Tanaka $155 million over seven years and include an opt-out clause following the deal’s fourth season. The Yankees will send an additional $20 million release fee to the right-hander’s former club, Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles.
“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win,” Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner told the Associated Press. “We had to make sure we had enough pitching to go together with our new lineup.”
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Tanaka caught the attention of MLB scouts and executives by going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings for the Eagles in 2013. Armed with a fastball-splitter-slider combination, the 25-year-old is viewed as a frontline starter capable of pitching atop an MLB rotation.
Now he's getting paid like an ace. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and C.C. Sabathia are the only MLB pitchers who have ever obtained more guaranteed money than Tanaka's $155 million. Indeed, the Yankees are spending the way they often did under longtime owner George Steinbrenner.
"There has been criticism of myself and my brother the last couple years that, gee, if our dad was still in charge, we'd be spending this and spending that and doing whatever it takes to win,'' Hank Steinbrenner told the AP.
"He didn't have revenue sharing, at least for most of his time,'' Hank Steinbrenner added. "That's what these people in the sports media don't seem to get. 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.''
The Eagles will benefit from Tanaka’s agreement -- though not as much as they might have under the previous set of rules regulating player movement from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) to MLB. The Eagles' $20 million release fee is considerably less than NPB teams obtained for Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51.1 million) and Yu Darvish ($51.7 million) under the previous set of rules. MLB and NPB recently agreed to a new posting system that provides players with additional leverage and helped Tanaka obtain a record contract for a Japanese pitcher. Posted players can now negotiate with multiple MLB teams at once, instead of being restricted to one club.
Many teams expressed interest in Tanaka, a client of Excel Sports Management’s Casey Close. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers were among the many teams with at least some level of interest in Tanaka.
The Yankees have already spent big this winter, committing nearly $500 million to Tanaka and free agents Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million), Brian McCann ($85 million) and Carlos Beltran ($45 million). The addition of those star players will make it extremely difficult for New York to avoid MLB's $189 million luxury tax threshold, even after Alex Rodriguez's 162-game suspension.
Before signing Tanaka, the starting rotation was the organization's most pressing need. He now joins a Yankees rotation that includes Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and David Phelps.
Now that Tanaka has signed, the rest of the pitching market will unfold. Free agent starters Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza remain available to the many teams still seeking starting pitching. For teams seeking shorter-term commitments, Paul Maholm, Bronson Arroyo and Jason Hammel will have appeal.
With files from the Associated Press.