Why Kei Igawa is still a (Scranton) YankeeBy
There’s no denying that one of Brian Cashman‘s biggest mistakes has been the acquisition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa. After getting blown out of the water on the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Red Sox, Cashman and the rest of the brain trust turned to Igawa, who was coming off a five season stretch with the Hanshin Tigers where he topped 200 innings four times (172.1 IP the other year) and posted a 3.14 ERA, 8.59 K/9, and 2.47 BB/9. He wasn’t going to be the ace Dice-K is was supposed to be, but he was expected to solidify the back of a rotation that featured the likes of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, and Darrell Rasner the year before.
The Yanks won Igawa’s rights with a $26,000,194 bid during the posting process; the extra $194 was an ode to his league leading strikeout total in 2006. They then gave him a five year contract worth $20M, but have gotten basically nothing out of him. Igawa’s Yankee career consists of 71.2 innings of 6.66 ERA, 6.19 FIP, 5.74 xFIP pitching, totaling -0.2 WAR. It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.
It’s not like the Yankees haven’t had a chance to unload Igawa, either. The Padres claimed the lefty off waivers back in August of 2007, he was part of the Johan Santana trade talks, ditto Mike Cameron, and the Cubs even showed some interest in him as recently as this offseason. None of that materialized, and in hindsight, yeah they should have just let the Padres have him and the $17M or so left on his contract. The Yanks still believed Igawa was salvageable and wanted to try to extract value out of him, but of course that never happened.
Late last night in one of his classic Heard This tweets, Buster Olney said that one reason why the Yanks have yet to deal Igawa is because doing so would cost them big time against the luxury tax. Ben and I couldn’t exactly figure out how that would work (neither could Maury Brown), but Jayson Stark explained the situation back in May:
At least now, you see, Igawa doesn’t count against their luxury-tax payroll because they were able to dump him off the 40-man roster. But if somebody actually wanted him (not that there’s any indication of that), the Yankees would have to pay virtually his entire salary. And that would pull all those dollars back onto their luxury-tax bill, to the tune of a 40 percent tax on whatever they’re paying.
In other words, one GM said, “They have huge incentive not to trade him, even if they could. So he’s one of the all-time stuck-in-purgatory cases.”
Essentially, if the Yanks trade Igawa and eat any of the money left on his deal, it counts against their big league payroll and thus the luxury tax. As long as he’s in the minors and not on the 40-man roster, which has been the case for more than two years now, his salary does not count towards their Major League payroll. The luxury tax isn’t cheap, 40% for every dollar on the payroll in excess of $170M, so they’d be looking at $2.2M in extra luxury tax if they deal Igawa today and ate every dollar left on his deal. That’s pocket change for the Yanks, but is it worth paying on top of Igawa’s salary just to get rid of him? Nah.
There’s a lot of venom towards Igawa and his sunglasses for obvious reasons, but I dunno, having him in Triple-A doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. It’s not like he’s blocking an actual prospect, he’s just the veteran swingman/long man that every Triple-A team employs to soak up miscellaneous innings here and there. Does it suck that the Yanks still have to pay him another $4M next year? Sure, but they’re stuck paying that money anyway. Might as well get something out of him.
So until his contract expires after next season, Igawa is stuck in Scranton, not wanted by the Yankees, not wanted back in Japan. His occasional appearance in DotF is a reminder of just how poorly this deal turned out.