Why Kei Igawa is still a (Scranton) Yankee


(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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.

Categories : Trade Deadline


  1. Snakes on the mother effin temple of d-day says:

    What I don’t get, since they are obviously not ever going to put him on the 40 man and call him up, is why not simply release him and just pay the money? You say he’s not blocking anyone, but how do we really know that? Especially next year, seems to me that a promotion or two could be stalled due to him being there, no?

    • Mike Axisa says:

      He’s thrown less than ten innings over the last month. He’s not getting in the way of anyone.

      • Snakes on the mother effin temple of d-day says:

        Are there no roster limitations at AAA?

        • Mike Axisa says:

          No, I think it’s a 24-man roster. Might be 25. If they weren’t carrying Igawa, they’d just carry another old veteran to run into the ground in long relief or the occasion spot starts.

          Prospects don’t do that stuff.

          • Snakes on the mother effin temple of d-day says:

            Right I guess my thought is that there must be *someone* in the baseball universe who is no worse than Igawa, who could perform that same role, but who just might – might – be worth calling up in a pinch for a spot start or stab at the bullpen (as they did with Igawa in I believe year 3 of his odyssey).

            You’d like to think that anyone on a 24/25 man AAA roster might be called up under some circumstance or another (or traded). That’s their primary reason for being ultimately, no?

            Not saying he serves no role. Just saying that there must be someone who could serve that same role but not be relegated to “not getting called up under any circumstances” status.

            • You’d like to think that anyone on a 24/25 man AAA roster might be called up under some circumstance or another (or traded). That’s their primary reason for being ultimately, no?

              No, not really. The job of the AAA team is twofold:

              1.) Provide the big league club with ready reinforcements for any injury replacement or spot starter
              2.) Provide the big league club’s top prospects with a proving ground to test and refine their skills in preparation of joining the big league club permanently

              Igawa in Scranton doesn’t fit #1, but he fits’ #2. He’s there to fill a hole to take pressure off of the prospects by pitching any and every inning needed (or not pitching at all if needed).

              For example, instances where one of the Scranton guys DOES move up to the big club, like when Ivan Nova made an appearance earlier this year. You need an Igawa to stay down in Scranton and make a spot-start for NOVA so that you don’t mess up the Scranton rotation while a member of the Scranton rotation is helping out the big league bullpen temporarily.

              You’re never going to have a situation where all 24 men on the Scranton team are all big league backup spot starters and bench help, it’s just not logistically possible. Some of them should always be guys who aren’t prospects and also aren’t real shots to get called up but are just pure org guys there to take any bullet and jump on any grenade possible so that the strictly regimented development plans of the real prospects never ever get disturbed.

            • Chris says:

              You could release Igawa and sign some other veteran to fill his role, but then you have to pay Igawa and the other veteran. It wouldn’t be much money, but it would be more than nothing.

        • You have to balance out the levels and not overstack any team with too many legit prospects, because then they’d be fighting for playing time and they’d all regress.

          That’s why guys like Igawa and Redding and van Benschoten and Bruntlett and Rene Rivera will always have spots in every organization’s AAA and AA teams.

          Igawa’s not blocking anyone. There’s not that many guys that just HAVE TO get promoted to Scranton immediately that would require getting rid of Igawa instantly. And if it ever did happen, they’d just demote Igawa to Trenton instead of cutting him. Having a non-prospect on a minor league team to soak up innings/plate appearances and give your real prospects a consistent play/rest schedule is a big benefit.

    • Ed says:

      If there’s space on the AAA roster for Tim Redding, there’s space for Igawa. There’s *always* filler on minor league rosters. Guys with no future that are there just to take some load off the guys they care about. If they have to pay him $4m/year, then they they might as well get something out of him. Releasing him just means signing another AAAA player or washed up former major league to fill his spot.

      • Snakes on the mother effin temple of d-day says:

        Right but occasionally one of those guys is lightning in a bottle – Chacon and Small come to mind and they are/were essentially AAAA players over the bulk of their careers – whereas I think its safe to say that Igawa has exactly zero chance of being lightning in a bottle at this point.

        • Chris says:

          Shawn Chacon was an all-star.

        • Jorge says:

          Aaron Small was the flukiest of flukes. Shawn Chacon, as stated earlier, was an All-Star and a guy with major league ability before he both flamed out and became a character issue (not that the latter stops other players from getting on MLB rosters.)

  2. Jay T says:

    What makes this frustrating is that he turned out to be a pretty good Quad A pitcher. I remember his first Spring Training, didn’t he win the team award for best rookie?

  3. Pat D says:

    Heard this:

  4. It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.

    Actually, it’s quite literally $46.000194M flushed down the toilet.

  5. A.D. says:

    having him in Triple-A doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others.

    I don’t know why it bothers anyone, especially since the org won’t have him stop anything. I’d much rather the Yanks pay him to play and eat innings for them, in the minors, then to pay him the same amount to potentially pitch elsewhere for a competitor where he somehow turns it around.

  6. steve s says:

    I wonder how the Yanks handling of Igawa and Fat Toad (and really you can lump the handling of Matsui in there as well vis a vis the Yanks failure to show any viable interest in retaining him last year after his WS MVP) will impact other Japanese players who may one day be in the market to play in America. If it’s just about going to the highest bidder then I guess it won’t really matter but I wouldn’t be surprised down the road if a hot Japanese prospect chooses not to come to the Yanks and cites how the Yanks’ relationships with Japanese players have really, in each case, not ended well.

    • The Fallen Phoenix says:

      Hideki Matsui. That ended pretty well for both parties, I think.

      • steve s says:

        I don’t think Matsui ended well at all. The Yanks basically said sayonara and didn’t show him much (if any) consideration for continuing as a Yankee. I don’t think Matsui is as pissed-off as Damon appeared to be (and he had more reason to be as Damon’s contract demands were sort of out of whack) but I can’t imagine that he was thrilled with how the Yanks handled the separation with him.

        • Dude was old and injury prone, and he’s hitting far worse now.

          I don’t think any young player would look at the Yankees refusal to bring back an old DH with bad knees as the mark of some horribly mean organization that shouldn’t be trusted.

        • Chris says:

          Matsui’s current line: .251/.332/.422/.755 for a 102 OPS+. That’s the worst season of his career so far. Perhaps other players will look at the Yankees and realize that they made a wise decision in not overpaying for a declining player.

          As for Igawa and Irabu, there’s not a whole lot the Yankees could have done differently. Sure, some of George’s comments about Irabu were less than flattering, but I can’t imagine how that would affect anyone now. Other than that, the Yankees got Irabu two world series championships and then traded him. Igawa’s just sucked. It’s hard to argue that the Yankees have done anything wrong when they’re giving him $20M to pitch in AAA.

        • bexarama says:

          Nah, not really. It seemed like the Yankees didn’t really have any interest in resigning him, so he got his negotiations out of the way quickly with another team. There wouldn’t be a whole lot of anger there.

        • Jorge says:

          I think the Yankees have handled Matisui with an amazing amount of class, as have the fans. It rarely ends perfectly for players used to achieving on a very high level who have lost several steps. See also: Williams, Bernie.

          Matsui is treated every bit like a Yankee who is wearing another uniform at the moment.

          • Kit says:

            Agreed. He doesn’t hold any sort of grudge or resentment either. He still laughs it up with Jeter, talks about missing New York and loving NYC, and sings the praises of the Yankee organization. He’s a baseball player, he gets that baseball is a sport, but also a business.

    • I doubt any Japanese player thinks about that at all. The Yankees didn’t “mishandle” Matsui, they paid him well for 7 years and then let him sign a new deal elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that.

      And the Yankees didn’t mishandle Irabu or Igawa either, they paid them and then the pitchers both sucked, so they moved on.

      I fail to see how any of those three stories would give some other Japanese player trepidation about signing with the Yankees. Do well and we’ll pay you well; do poorly and we won’t. Just like every other baseball team on the planet.

      • steve s says:

        In Matsui’s case he did well but was out anyway. The Yanks didn’t let him sign a deal elsewhere, he had no realistic Yankee commitment to re-sign him.

        • Hideki Matsui’s first three seasons in pinstripes, games played:

          Hideki Matsui’s last four seasons in pinstripes, games played:

          Matsui didn’t do well. He did okay, but he was constantly out of the lineup, and that’s why he wasn’t brought back. And no Japanese player would look at that and “choose not to come to the Yankees”. Everyone with a brain understands why the Yankees told him to kick rocks. He’s an old DH who can’t be counted on to stay on the field.

          No big whoop.

      • steve s says:

        For what its worth take a look at Rob Abruzzese post on the Bronx Baseball Daily site of 2/2/10. The title of the post is: Yankees Go On A “Sorry We Didn’t Re-Sign Matsui” Tour and reports that on Feb. 1, 2010 Brian Cashman (presumably along with a Yankee entourage) brought the WS trophy to Tokyo “perhaps worried that they’ve alienated their Japanese market by not re-signing their hero, Hideki Matsui”.

        • Kit says:

          They also went to the Dominican Republic. You think they alienated the Dominican market by trading Melky? I’m not trying to be snarky, but that really isn’t accurate. The point of showcasing a WS trophy isn’t to apologize for not re-signing a player. They have ties to the Yomiuri Giants whose stadium is in Tokyo and who also won a championship in 2009, so it may have just been for publicity for both teams, not to try to regain the love of a lost Japanese market (which isn’t all that lost). They also have Japanese sponsors that may have somehow been involved in that decision. I’m not saying I’m right, but it seems unlikely that it was an apology for not signing Hideki. I love Matsui but it was the best decision to let him go.

    • Tom Zig says:

      The Yanks treated Matsui very well in his 7 years here. The Yankees were just very concerned over very real health problems of his. The only one treated poorly was Irabu. The Yanks never were mean to Igawa, they tried to fix him, it didn’t work. If he was any good he’d still be pitching for the big league club.

      I doubt it changes anything.

    • ZZ says:

      Would anyone here really mind all that much if a Japanese prospect did not want to come to the Yankees?

      The posting fees you have to pay to get these unproven players are outrageous and the track record of transitional success is not exactly very high.

      To be honest I would rather the Yankees just continue to focus on and invest in Latin America where they have made a killing over the past several years at a fraction of the cost.

      It is obviously never prudent to completely eliminate a market for talent, but I do wonder if the money could be spent better elsewhere for even top players in Japan.

      • The hitters generally do better than the pitchers. Probably because the 6 man rotation, workout regimen, and park sizes makes pitching a different ballgame.

        Relievers are okay, because they present less financial risk on smaller contracts.

        Perhaps we should have a no-Japanese-starting-pitcher policy, but I wouldn’t quibble with spending money on Ichiros, Matsuis, Sasakis, or Okajimas.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      If a Japanese player values how the relationship between the Yanks and Matsui ended more than how well the team treated him during his time here then fuck him, I don’t want him on the team anyway.

    • Ross in Jersey says:

      How was Matsui mistreated? The Yankees made him a rich man while he was here. They supported him with his constant knee issues, not pushing him to return to the lineup too quickly. He was the World Series MVP on a one-game performance, great. He seems like an intelligent man, I’m sure he knows that baseball is the business. Even better, he got to leave on top of him game and while the fans loved him. They gave him his World Series ring on the field, making sure to announce him last so the fans and players could show their appreciation. They didn’t have to do that.

      I think he was treated just fine.

  7. B-Rando says:

    I’d much rather have him wasting away in Scranton than letting him walk and paying him anyway. The fact remains that he is going to get his money one way or the other…mine as well get something out of him for it. If that means he’s pitching ~10 innings a month, so be it.

    • Snakes on the mother effin temple of d-day says:

      Yeah except that there are other bodies in the universe who could fill this same role yet might in some real ML situation be worth calling up. Not so with Igawa. And if the Yankees truly believe he really is that bad, or unfixable, then they should perceive zero risk in letting him walk to go play for someone else.

      If he is AAAA for us then he should be that for others too.

      • Sweet Dick Willie says:

        then they should perceive zero risk in letting him walk to go play for someone else.

        As Mike stated in the article, this risk of him going elsewhere is that the Yankees would have to pay the luxury tax on his salary (unless you think another team would be willing to pick up his entire $4 mil salary, in which case I know of a lovely bridge you may be interested in).

      • Again, dude: There is a real and actual value in having a guy in AAA who can either start or relieve but is never EVER going to get called up. He provides the security of always being there in Scranton to do whatever the hell Scranton needs to have done.

        If we dumped Igawa, we’d replace him with another Igawa level pitcher who also has a 0% chance of ever being good enough to get a callup to the major leagues.

        You’re making something out of nothing. Igawa has value in the role he’s in. Sure, he’s overpaid, but if you cut him you’re only going to replace him with another guy who’s cheaper but who also has the exact same non-future that he does.

      • rbizzler says:

        I think you need to do some research on how MiL systems are run. At every level of every organization there are guys whose job it is to be ‘cannon fodder.’ That is the role that Igawa serves for SWB. He is the guy that will make spot starts, emergency start on three days rest because of injuries/trades/call-ups, and can get jerked around from the ‘pen to the rotation at a moments notice without the org caring one bit about his future.

        Once again, you cannot expect the org to have potentially useful pieces filling every roster spot at every level. It just doesn’t work that way. Plus, why would all of these guys who could hypothetically help the big club sign with the Yanks anyway? Why be fifth, sixth or seventh in line for a call-up when you can be second or third in another org?

        We go through the same argument every year about building a bench in the offseason.

  8. Look at that smile. He looks so joyous! How can you not like that guy?

  9. bonestock94 says:

    This is so sad. I was in a transitional period during that season so I didn’t get see him at all. I’d love to see him get a september start for a throwaway game lol.

  10. Max says:

    Dear Mike,
    This is entirely unrelated to Kei Igawa, but there was just a post on MLB Trade Rumors suggesting that the Angels might become sellers on veterans. Do you think it would be worth it to (in the most circular move ever) retrieve Matsui, for example? Is it worth doing anything at this point?

  11. larryf says:

    The Sushi Bars in Scranton are doing great. They have given him the Kei to the city :-)

  12. Tom Zig says:

    What is the Kei-Man going to do when he becomes a free agent? Will he re-sign with the Yanks or just quit baseball?

  13. Steve H says:

    What will happen to him next year? Will some NL team take a chance on him? Back to Japan, even though he may not be wanted? Will he try to re-sign with the Yankees to put the Scranton wins record way out of reach, ala Cy Young?

  14. 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.

    If I am understanding this statement correctly, then Igawa would force the Yanks over the luxury tax threshold if he was called onto the 40 man roster to pitch for the Yankees as well. That’s to bad because I think he could be just as good of a long relief / mop up man as Chad Guadin and the like. It’s to bad they couldn’t have found a purpose for him at the pro level.

  15. CaptainRaf says:

    Heard this..those sunglasses have not caught on in other Triple-A rosters.

  16. larryf says:

    In the spirit of the Cleveland right fielder who has been wearing us out, we could rename Kei:

    Hurt Soo Bad

    Not Soo Good

    Cost Soo Much

  17. Ross in Jersey says:

    This is why we’re spoiled as Yankee fans. If a smaller market team had signed him, they’d have no choice but to leave him in the rotation, and it would handcuff them in attempting to sign other players. The Yankees can just eat their mistakes. Not complaining, just saying :)

  18. Opus says:

    I remember the Wizard of Oz costumes was his (and many others) rookie year hazing. Ian Kennedy as Dorothy, Shelly Duncan as the Scarecrow, Phil Hughes as the Tin Man, Joba as the Cowardly Lion, Edwar as the Wicked Witch, and Igawa… as the flying monkey. Wonder if they were aware of the racist connotations of associating the Japanese with monkeys.

  19. Eo says:

    “It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.”

    You need to brush up on the definition of the word ‘literally.’

  20. ADam says:

    “There’s no denying that one of Brian Cashman’s biggest mistakes has been the acquisition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa”

    One has to wonder if this was a Randy Levine move when the decision making was split b/t tampa and NY

    • Eo says:

      At the time, it kinda felt like the Red Sox signed Okajima so Matsuzaka would have somebody to play with, so the Yankees signed Igawa so Matsui would too.

  21. Tim says:

    As much of a mistake as Igawa has been, I still believe that, given the $$$, the Matsuzaka signing by the Red Sox has been an even more catastrophic mistake. Even the year when he was 18-3 with a sub-three ERA, he was terrible – walking the world, barely making it through 5 innings, etc. All that for the low, low price of over $100 million!

  22. mustang says:

    This is so ironic it’s funny.

    So Cashman originally picked Kei Igawa over Ted Lilly because he didn’t want to take the luxury tax hit on Lilly (about 5 million). Now the reason they don’t bring up Igawa or trade him is because again the luxury tax.
    So the Yankees spent 46 million (for useless Igawa) not to pay 7.5 million in luxury tax (5 on Lilly or 2.5 on whatever prospects they would of received for Igawa)

    Wow! The Yankees need to fire their accountants.

    • V says:

      1) They didn’t think Igawa was going to be useless. They thought Igawa for $46M + luxury tax was better than Lilly for $X + luxury tax. They were wrong, but :shrug:

      2) The Yankees were not going to receive prospects for Igawa. Definitely not $3M worth of prospects.

      • mustang says:

        1- most scouts predict Igawa to be a long man to 5th starter at best and he had never pitched in MLB. Lilly not only pitched in MLB, but in the division. (Yes, it was only to about a .500 record, but that was better then what others had in that winter).

        “:shrug:” NOW! But back in 2008 in the middle of a race when they were looking at Sidney Ponson on the mound I’m sure you weren’t shrugging it off then.

        • mustang says:


          2- how do you know what they might of gotten for Igawa? And how that would of turn out?

          It couldn’t be worst then a 46 million AAA pitcher.

  23. mustang says:

    “It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.”

    The sad thing is that Cashman had clearly a better option but he tired to be cheap.

    • MikeD says:

      …and exactly what option was that? Dice-K?

      The Yankees did put in a bid for him, but the posting fees are unknown before. They had no way of guessing the absurb fee the Red Sox posted, which at $51 million was more than the Igawa’s entire contract + the posting fee. Dice-K cost the Red Sox $103 million. If they had to do it all over again, the Yankees wouldn’t sign Igawa, and the Red Sox wouldn’t sign Dice-K. Sure, the Sox got some value on the MLB level for their investment, but it cost them another $54 million more. Pass.

    • MikeD says:

      Scrolling up I see the discussion was about Lilly. In that case I agree. I wanted Lilly on the Yankees since he not only had pitched in the A.L., but had done it in the A.L. East and consistently beat the Red Sox. Oh, and he wanted to pitch for the Yankees. Since it was a money decision, not sure it was Cashman’s final say or others in the organization, but Lilly certainly would have given them some value.

      The Yankees seemingly are passing on Lilly once again as an option down the stretch, although this time they are probably right to be concerned about how his reduced velocity would play on a return to the A.L.

      • mustang says:

        “The Yankees seemingly are passing on Lilly once again as an option down the stretch, although this time they are probably right to be concerned about how his reduced velocity would play on a return to the A.L.”

        He is better then any of the current 5th spot options also he can replace Hughes once he hits his limits and goes to the pen come playoff time he is a left-handed relief pitcher. All this and he is probably cheap Cubs are talking about eating some of his salary.

  24. MikeD says:

    So I’m guessing that every year that goes by there’s less issues with just straight out releasing Igawa. For example, next year is his final one under contract (please don’t tell me his contract runs through 2012!), so they really don’t lose anything by cutting him in 2011. They owe him $4 million for the year either way. I suppose the only reason(s) to keep him around are:

    1) To punish him (although that seems kind of stupid since it’s not his fault he’s a AAAA pitcher);
    2) To get some value out of the $4 million. Even if he eats up some useless innings in AAA, then he is providing value to the overall organization.
    3) Prevent a team from picking him up and then watching him provide some value to a MLB club while the Yankees are paying him.
    4) All of the above.

  25. Charles says:

    Thank you, Mr. Axisa, for this article. I have wondered for some time why the Yankees hadn’t traded or released Igawa by now, but until reading your article hadn’t been able to find out the answer. I am probably in the minority here, but I actually feel sorry for Igawa. I imagine he would like another chance with another MLB team, but unfortunately for the reasons you mentioned is stuck in a strange sort of purgatory. If I were Igawa’s agent I would offer to pay the luxury tax for the Yankees in exchange for Igawa’s freedom. This would give the Yankees what they want and give Igawa what he (presumably) wants, another chance at pitching in the big leagues.

  26. Charles Jannuzi says:

    Considering how much lousy pitching I watched last season with the Yanks, especially in the starting category, I really think they are stupid for not giving him a ten game stretch at starter to prove or not prove himself. BTW, the much hated Irabu finished with an overall winning record as a Yankee, and an era that certain Yankee starters would have envied last season.

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