Archive for Minors
Every offseason I put together a post looking at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster even though it’s almost completely unpredictable. So much can and will change between now and the start of the season that it’s impossible to pin down more than a few spots. At the same time, the Triple-A club is just an extension of the MLB club, so I think it’s important to look at. We’ll see a lot of these guys in the show next summer.
From the looks of it, the Yankees are planning to hold three competitions in Spring Training: one for the fifth starter’s spot, one for the extra infielder, and one for the bullpen in general. That last one will be a bunch of smaller competitions, really. Injuries could open up even more spots, as we learned last year. For now, here’s an early breakdown of who figures to head to Northeast Pennsylvania at the end of camp:
|Russ Canzler||Zoilo Almonte||LHP Manny Banuelos||RHP Jim Miller|
|Corban Joseph||Slade Heathcott||RHP Bruce Billings||RHP Mark Montgomery|
|Zelous Wheeler||Antoan Richardson||LHP Nik Turley||RHP Y. Tateyama|
|ST Comp. Loser 1||ST Comp. Loser 1||RHP Chase Whitley|
|ST Comp. Loser 2||ST Comp. Loser 2||ST Comp. Loser 1|
||ST Comp. Loser 2|
|Catchers||Ronnie Mustelier||ST Comp. Loser 3|
|J.R. Murphy||Jose Pirela|
|Austin Romine||Yangervis Solarte|
Barring injury, Frankie Cervelli will back up Brian McCann this summer, leaving Murphy and Romine for Triple-A. Murphy should get playing time priority but they’ll both get plenty of at-bats, including some at DH. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy sees some time at third base, as he has in the past. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the team carried a third catcher (Jose Gil?) if the plan is to regularly DH those guys on the days they aren’t catching. If so, Solarte or Wheeler could wind up with Double-A Trenton or released.
The infield is pretty straight forward. Canzler, Joseph, Pirela, and Wheeler will get an opportunity to win that last bench job with the big league team but they are at a disadvantage for various reasons. Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna seem to have the best chance of winning that spot. The other guys will be there for show. The two losers of that competition (ST Comp. Loser 1 & 2) will wind up with the RailRiders. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Nunez and Anna landing in Triple-A with Sizemore in the big leagues. That’s just a guess though.
The outfield is mostly set. I do believe both Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will return to Trenton to at least start the year. Midseason promotions are always possible, but Austin has to stay healthy and Flores has to hit before moving up becomes a realistic possibility. The biggest outfield wildcard is Almonte, who is the odds on favorite to take over as the MLB team’s extra outfielder should Ichiro Suzuki get traded. If not, he’ll play everyday in Triple-A and await the inevitable call-up due to injury. Mustelier, Solarte, and Pirela are utility men with experience all over the field, so that position player crop features quite a bit of versatility.
Billings was picked up last week to be the team’s veteran innings guy. Every minor league team needs one. That non-prospect you can run out there for 110 pitches every five days just to save the bullpen and lighten the load on the actual prospects. Turley pitched well enough last year to move up from Double-A and Banuelos is finally healthy after missing close to two full years. It’s possible he may start the season down in Tampa with the warm weather, however. The organization could ease him back into things that way, and no, I do not think he has a realistic chance of winning the fifth starter competition. He missed too much time and wasn’t a finished product before blowing out his elbow anyway.
That fifth starter competition will feature David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Michael Pineda. Maybe David Huff as well, though I think he’s more likely to be removed from the 40-man roster in the coming weeks than anything. I think Phelps and Warren have to be considered the favorites in that competition and I expect both to be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. One as a starter and one as a long reliever. That would leave Nuno and Pineda for Triple-A, though Pineda could start the year in Tampa like Banuelos. After two missed years, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him along slowly.
Miller, Montgomery, Whitley, and Yoshinori Tateyama are Triple-A holdovers without much of an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job. Getting passed over in the Rule 5 Draft tells us not a single team thinks Whitley can help at the MLB level right now. Montgomery needs to rebound from his injury-plagued year before getting a chance to become a big league factor. I suspect we’ll see him at some point in 2014, probably in the second half. He just hit a little developmental speed bump, that’s all. The slider is still nasty.
The group of guys expected to compete for a bullpen gig in camp is really long. I count eight pitchers in the running: Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Robert Coello, Matt Daley, Brian Gordon, David Herndon, and Jose Ramirez. We can include Huff in this mix as well, but again, I don’t think he is long for the roster. Realistically, there are three bullpen spots open in Triple-A and three open in MLB behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, and Phelps/Warren. I’d love to see the Yankees sign two starters and push both Phelps and Warren down the depth chart another notch, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
Eight pitchers for six spots means two guys are going to be left hanging, but that’s not worth worrying about now. Ramirez could step into the Triple-A rotation if Banuelos and/or Pineda start the year in Tampa and chances are someone will get hurt at some point. There are too many guys listed here to think they’ll all make it through Spring Training healthy. Spots will open in the coming weeks, guaranteed. Others like Danny Burawa (42 walks in 66 Double-A innings in 2013) and Pat Venditte (coming off shoulder surgery) figure to return to Trenton to open the year.
Unlike that fifth starter competition, I’m not sure we can handicap the bullpen competition right now. Betances, Cabral, Claiborne, and Daley may seem like they have a leg up, but Coello was pretty awesome before getting hurt last year and Ramirez could show up in Tampa and blow everyone away. Maybe Claiborne is at the front of the line after logging a decent amount of big league innings last summer, but otherwise I don’t think there’s much of a pecking order in the bullpen. Whoever impresses the most in camp will probably get the job, but either way, I’m willing to bet we’ll see a whole bunch of these guys in 2014.
As I said before, this is just a snapshot of the Triple-A Scranton roster. We learned last year just how much things can change during camp. For now it seems like a good chunk of the RailRiders roster is set aside from those competitions, which are vast and numerous. The Triple-A team is basically a taxi squad for the big league club and that will be especially true for the 2014 Yankees. Those competitions are not limited to Spring Training, remember. Those spots will be revolving doors all summer.
3:42pm: Now Nightengale says the Dodgers “won’t spend wildly” on Tanaka. So, yeah. Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, John Shea hears Tanaka prefers to play in New York, Los Angeles, or Boston.
3:00pm: Via Bob Nightengale: The Dodgers have let it be known they “plan to go all-out” to sign Masahiro Tanaka and claim they will not allow themselves to be out-bid. That could just be posturing or, given how Los Angeles has spent these last two years, completely sincere. The Yankees are interested in Tanaka but it is unclear exactly how far they’re willing to go to sign him. The signing deadline for Tanaka is two weeks from today.
Today is the halfway point of Masahiro Tanaka‘s 30-day negotiating window. He has 15 days left to work out a contract before the 5pm ET deadline on January 24th, and the entire deal must be complete by that time. Tanaka needs to pass a physical and sign on the dotted line by then. There won’t be any of this “agree to a deal and three weeks later it’s official” nonsense. Only 15 days until he is on some team’s roster. Love the hard deadline.
Anyway, we know the Yankees have already contacted with Tanaka’s agent Casey Close, but there haven’t been any real updates since. That doesn’t mean talks have stalled or anything like that, just that no updates have leaked. The whole process has been very tight-lipped, it seems. I’m guessing that’s by design. Here are some Tanaka-related notes from around the league in what I suspect is the first of many update posts:
- Tanaka flew to the Los Angeles yesterday to begin face-to-face meetings with teams. He is slated to meet with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and Angels this week and he will also be seen by a doctor to get the physical process going. [David Waldstein, Bill Plunkett & Jon Heyman]
- D’Backs GM Kevin Towers said Close “pretty much asked those clubs that are involved that just less is better and not to really say anything or divulge the process or what’s happening.” That explains the lack of updates. [Steve Gilbert]
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti confirmed he has touched base with Tanaka’s camp but the two sides are in the “feeling out” stage. Negotiations with various clubs are “still in a very preliminary phase” and things might not heat up until next week. [Dylan Hernandez & Andy Martino]
- If you missed it earlier this week, here is our massive Scouting The Market post on Tanaka. Pretty much everything you need to know about the guy is in there.
Luis Severino | RHP
Severino hails from Sabana Del Mar, a small fishing town along the north shore of the Dominican Republic. He was a little older than the typical Latin American prospect when he signed with the Yankees in December 2011, two months before his 18th birthday. Severino received a relatively modest $225k bonus.
The Yankees assigned Severino to the Dominican Summer League to start his pro career in 2012. He threw 64.1 innings across 14 starts that season, posting a 1.68 ERA (3.14 FIP) with 45 strikeouts (6.30 K/9 and 18.3 K%) and 17 walks (2.38 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%).
Severino came stateside last year and was very impressive, making six appearances with the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate (1.37 ERA and 1.68 FIP) before being bumped up and making four starts with Low-A Charleston (4.08 ERA and 2.24 FIP). All told, Severino posted a 2.45 ERA (1.92 FIP) with 53 strikeouts (10.84 K/9 and 29.6 K%) and only ten walks (2.05 BB/9 and 5.6 BB%) in 44 innings in 2013. After the season, Baseball America ranked him as the 17th best prospect in the GCL.
Severino is a short-ish right-hander — he’s listed at only 6-foot-0 and 195 lbs. — with really big stuff. He unleashes 92-94 mph fastballs on the regular and will hump it up to 97-98 on his best days, though he is prone to getting radar gun happy and overthrowing. That is something that can improve with experience, at least in theory. Severino is really athletic and his arm action is loose, so the ball jumps out of his hand.
A mid-80s slider was Severino’s top secondary pitch when he signed, but he developed a low-to-mid-80s fading changeup after turning pro and it has since become his top offspeed offering. The slider is inconsistent but still shows promise. Severino throws strikes with his fastball and he generally locates his two offspeed pitches down in the zone, where they’re supposed to go. There is occasionally some arm recoil — not a huge red flag but not ideal either — in his otherwise smooth delivery. Like most teenage pitchers, Severino still needs to learn the finer points of his craft, like holding runners and fielding his position.
That video is from Spring Training last year and is the only video of Severino I can find. Again, there just isn’t many photos or video of the kid out there.
After his successful four-start cameo at the end of last season, Severino figures to return to Low-A Charleston to open 2014. He’ll turn 20 late next month and I expect him to remain with the River Dogs all year, even if he completely tears the South Atlantic League apart.
Severino is one of those cheaper, lower profile Latin American prospects the Yankees have a knack for digging up. I actually like him more than bigger name international signings like Rafael DePaula and Omar Luis because he throws strikes with his fastball, has already figured out a changeup, and has three pitches overall. Severino is just a kid with barely a hundred pro innings to his credit though. He has a lot of work and development ahead of him, but the raw tools are exciting and suggest he will be able to remain a starter long-term.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The $20M release fee for Masahiro Tanaka will be paid out in two installments — $13M in 2014 and $7M in 2015. Under the old system, the posting fee had to be paid out in one lump sum as soon as the player signed. The installment plan was added to the new system as a way to give smaller market clubs a better chance of landing the player, which … whatever. MLB continues to bend over backwards for the small markets. This doesn’t really impact the Yankees.
Two weeks and three days from now, we will know where Masahiro Tanaka will spend the 2014 season. He’s either going to sign with one of the 30 MLB teams by 5pm ET on January 24th or return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles for another year. I like having a hard deadline like that. Wish they could do it for every free agent.
The Yankees are expected to pursue Tanaka very aggressively and in fact, they’ve already made contact with his agent Casey Close. They haven’t made an offer yet, at least as far as we know, but that will happen at some point relatively soon. The new posting system means the price for Tanaka will be enormous, larger than other Japanese imports and easily the richest deal ever given to an international player. (The current record is the $68M the White Sox gave Jose Abreu a few weeks ago.)
Who is Tanaka though? I mean, we know who he is, but what are his strengths and weaknesses? How is he expected to fare in Major League Baseball compared to the less competitive Nippon Professional Baseball? We’ve read bits and pieces about the right-hander in recent months but I think it’s time to put together a one-stop shop for all things Tanaka. That’s what I tried to do with this post — create a smorgasbord of information on the guy. If you have a question about him, hopefully the answer is here. Let’s dive in.
Born: November 1st, 1988 (age 25)
Weight: 205 lbs.
Background (i.e. short version of Wikipedia): Tanaka drew up in Itami, a suburb of Osaka in southern Japan. He attended Komazawa University Tomakomai High School in Hokkaido, which is a couple hundred miles from home in northern Japan. The Rakuten Golden Eagles, Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, and Yokohoma BayStars all selected Tanaka with their first round pick in the 2006 NPB draft. The teams then drew straws and Rakuten won his rights. The NPB draft is weird.
Tanaka’s nickname is Ma-kun and it’s often abbreviated to just Ma. It doesn’t actually mean anything from what I can tell, it’s just a high school nickname that stuck. Tanaka’s wife is Mai Satoda, a big time pop star in Japan.
This seems like the next logical step in this information overload. Here is a scouting report on Tanaka from Ben Badler (subs. req’d) back in August:
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Tanaka throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph. Even though Tanaka can reach the mid-90s, his fastball is the pitch that gives some scouts pause because it comes in on a flat plane, making it more hittable than the velocity might suggest. Tanaka has two secondary pitches that have earned grades of 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, including a 70 splitter with late downward action to keep hitters off his fastball. His low- to mid-80s slider is another plus weapon, while he’ll mix in a curveball as well.
Tanaka used to pitch away from contact, but in the past two years, he has become more aggressive within the zone with his fastball, and his splitter is a solid 60 on the 20-80 scale. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and his slider will flash above-average to plus, while he mixes in a below-average curveball and a cutter, the same “kitchen-sink” approach pitchers often use in NPB but have to simplify when they come to MLB.
Tanaka’s delivery doesn’t include as much hip rotation as many pitchers developed in Japan; he hides the ball behind him but doesn’t generate much torque, and he’s got a big hook in the back of his delivery. He also missed a month with an undisclosed injury in spring 2012, which has to be a concern given his high workloads dating to high school.
The optimistic view of Tanaka sees incredible control and at least one pitch, possibly two, to miss MLB hitters’ bats, making him worth the $15 million-plus it’ll take in annual salary to sign him. There are absolutely reasons for skepticism here, but the same holds true for every free-agent starter on this list.
Courtesy of Sweeny Murti, Rakuten closer and former Yankees hurler Darrell Rasner recently spoke about Tanaka as a teammate and gave us a glimpse of how he’s been using his workouts to prepare for MLB:
He’s a good teammate. I’ve watched him last couple years and he’s studied English, he’s worked really hard on that. He was very good with us foreign guys (one-time Yankees Andruw Jones and Casey McGehee and former Phillies/Astros/Royals pitcher Brandon Duckworth also played for Rakuten in 2013). Just him working English and trying to communicate with the non-Japanese speaking players was really cool. A great teammate, fun in the clubhouse. His work ethic is awesome and just all around good guy, good heart.
The ball is different. The major league ball is a lot slicker and a little bit bigger. I don’t know what it is, but (Japanese baseballs) do have some (grip) to them. But (Tanaka) plays catch with the major league ball and throws bullpens with the major league ball. I personally don’t think its going to be a big thing for him. His competitiveness will get him through little things like that that other guys complain about. He’s going to get through those.
This last nugget from Jeff Passan back in November isn’t really a scouting report, but it does shed some light on how the Yankees view Tanaka:
Yankees officials are not concerned the rough tenures of Japanese pitchers Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa would in any way repeat themselves with Tanaka. In fact, Yankees scouts compare his temperament and makeup to a player with far more success in New York: Hideki Matsui.
In other parts of their write-ups, both Balder and Law says Tanaka is viewed as someone who can step right into a big league rotation and be a number two starter almost immediately. It’s worth nothing other successful Japanese starters have gone through what amounts to a one-year transition period — they really took off in their second MLB season, not the first.
Because we have to, here is some video of Tanaka from the 2013 season:
That’s every one of his strikeouts, both regular season and postseason. I didn’t bother to count but there are around 200 of ‘em.
Because we have to, here are Tanaka’s career stats with Rakuten:
Tanaka won the Sawamura Award (Cy Young equivalent) in both 2011 and 2013. Otherwise the stats looks good to me. I reckon the guy can pitch.
Stats, Now With Context
Did you know that offense (particularly power) had declined so much in Japan these last few years that NPB started using what amounted to a juiced ball in 2013 and didn’t bother to tell the Japanese players’ union until midseason? True story. Because of that, we need to add some context to Tanaka’s stats otherwise we don’t know what they’re telling us.
Here’s a table from David Golebiewski that compares Tanaka’s performance over the last three seasons to the performances of other NPB aces during the three years before they came to MLB:
By now you know how ERA+ works, right? One hundred is league average and the higher the number, the better the pitcher performed relative to rest of the league. It’s the same idea for K+, BB+, and HR+, just using strikeout, walk, and homerun rates, respectively. Got it? Good.
As you can see, Tanaka’s performance relative to the rest of NPB these last three years is very much on par with Yu Darvish’s performance the three years before he came stateside. He’s also been way better than Daisuke Matsuzaka was before he came to MLB, ditto Kei Igawa and Hiroki Kuroda and pretty much everyone else. As far as NPB pitchers go, Tanaka has been as good as it gets.
About That Workload
Recently, both Tom Verducci and Passan noted Tanaka’s massive career workload is a red flag. And make no mistake, it has been massive: over 1,300 innings before his 25th birthday, not counting the postseason. The only MLB pitcher to approach that number in recent years is Felix Hernandez, who chucked 1,388.1 innings before turning 25. Clayton Kershaw (1,180), CC Sabathia (1,165.1), Matt Cain (1,095.2), Dontrelle Willis (1,022.2), and Jon Garland (1,009) are the only other pitchers this century to throw more than a thousand innings before their 25th birthday. Here’s the full list, if you’re interested.
Of course, bulk innings are only one piece of the workload equation. Total pitches are another factor to consider and Tanaka sure has thrown a ton of pitches over the years. Here are some numbers from Passan:
Over the last five years, he has averaged more pitches per start, 113.3, than any pitcher in the major leagues. The closest is Justin Verlander at 112.9 and Felix Hernandez ranks second at 106.5. And it’s not just the per-game haul. Some of the individual outings Tanaka has logged horrify the pitch-count phobes.
There were the 742 pitches Tanaka threw over six starts in a two-week span as a 17-year-old at the national high school baseball tournament. And the back-to-back 137- and 142-pitch starts at 20 years old. The coup de grace came during the Japan Series this season, in which Tanaka went 160 pitches during a Game 6 loss, then came back the next day and threw another 15 in relief to close out Rakuten’s championship victory.
Amazingly, Passan never mentions in his article that NPB starters are on a seven-day schedule, not a five-day schedule like MLB starters (Verducci mentions it in passing). They start once a week in Japan, which allows their pitchers to throw a few extra pitches each time out. So while Tanaka has a lot of high individual game pitch counts, he also had extra rest. Here’s another note on his workload from J.J. Cooper:
Over the past four seasons, Tanaka has averaged eight innings per start and he’s pitched a complete game in nearly 40 percent of his starts. Over that same time frame Justin Verlander, considered the iron man of current U.S. starting pitchers, has averaged just under seven innings an outing and has pitched a complete game in 10 percent of his starts.
But Tanaka has been starting only once a week, not once every five days. And he’s been doing it against lineups where he can quite clearly gear up for the middle of the lineup while cruising through the bottom third with lesser stuff, something BA’s Ben Badler noted frequently during the 2013 season.
Does that mean Tanaka’s workload is not a concern? Of course not. Throwing so many innings and pitches — especially at such a young age — is generally a bad idea. Pitching is an unnatural act and doing it a lot will lead to injury. It’s inevitable. The injury could come next week, next year, next decade, who knows? But do it long enough and you’re going to get hurt, guaranteed.
Dice-K and (to a lesser extent) Darvish were subject to similarly high workloads at a young age and were mostly lauded for being durable. That tone has changed in recent years, especially since Matsuzaka broke down two years after coming to MLB. As Verducci wrote two years ago, the Rangers made an effort to control Darvish’s workload after signing him by reducing his side work and using off-days to give him extra rest throughout the season. Tanaka’s next team figures to do something similar but there is no sugarcoating it: his workload is a red flag.
Force Those Comps
I hate comps, the cool shorthand for player comparisons. They’re forced more often than not, especially when it comes to performance. Tanaka is from Japan and therefore we should only compare him to other Japanese pitchers, right? No. Well, not unless we’re talking about workload/transition from NPB to MLB kinda stuff.
If we must (and I guess we must) come up with some comps for Tanaka, we should compare him to similar pitchers regardless of whether they were born in Japan, the Dominican Republic, or Southern California. We should compare him to other pitchers who don’t walk anyone and operate with a low-90s fastball, one knockout offspeed pitch (preferably a splitter), plus another very good offspeed offering.
Jim Bowden mentioned Dan Haren as a comp for Tanaka while Tony Blengino (former stats guy in the Mariners’ front office) mentioned Jered Weaver. Both pitchers are workhorse righties with average-ish fastballs and an array of secondary pitches. Haren in particular seems like a strong comp* because he used a splitter as well, though he is several inches taller than Tanaka and that’s something to consider. Pre-shoulder surgery Freddy Garcia could be another comp as well.
* Haren averaged 4.7 bWAR and 227.1 innings per season from age 25-30, in case you’re wondering. Everyone should be thrilled if Tanaka turns into Haren.
It’s also worth pointing that like Tanaka, both Haren and Weaver work up in the zone with their fastballs and they’ve succeeded in MLB by generating weak fly balls. They don’t get many grounders but the fly balls they get usually don’t travel very far. Here are their batted ball distance charts, courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps:
Haren is on the left and Weaver is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view, if you must.
The red dots are individual fly balls and the vertical clusters are seasons, so that’s 2007-2013 from left to right. As you can see, both guys have consistently averaged 275-ish feet per fly ball over the years. A 275-ish foot fly ball is an out with a defensively competent outfield. There’s a reason Haren (.288 BABIP from age 25-30) and especially Weaver (.268 BABIP from age 25-30) have enjoyed lower than league average (.297) batting averages on balls in play over the years. Those weakly hit fly balls are easy outs.
Anyway, back to Tanaka. Dave Cameron came up with some statistical comps — I don’t necessarily agree with his 46-54% ground ball rate assumption, but let’s roll with it — and the group ranges from awesome (James Shields, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke) to eh (Jon Niese, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson). More than anything, Cameron’s list reinforces that the range of possible outcomes is huge. We can slap a comp on any player but they’re usually unfair and almost always incorrect. Masahiro Tanaka isn’t the next Darvish. He isn’t the next Igawa either. He isn’t the next anyone. He’s the first Masahiro Tanaka.
Let’s Talk Money
Thanks to the new posting system, Tanaka is a free agent with a $20M surcharge called a “release fee.” Only the team that signs him has to send the $20M to Rakuten and apparently the release fee is paid out in installments over several years, so it isn’t even a huge one-time payment (like posting fees under the old system) that would burden a small market club. The new system is very player friendly but it really sucks for his former team in Japan. Hard to understand why NPB agreed to it.
The FanGraphs crowdsourcing says most fans expect Tanaka to receive a six-year contract in the $120M-124M range, and according to our poll, that’s maximum most RAB readers are comfortable paying him. That’s just the contract, so add in the $20M release fee on top of that and total outlay is $140M-144M for six years. There’s always a chance some team will go nuts and blow everyone else out of the water with a big offer, but six years and $120M-ish seems like the contract benchmark right now.
The Rangers paid a total of $107.7M for Darvish (contract plus posting fee) while the Red Sox paid $103.1M for Dice-K. Tanaka has way more negotiating leverage than both of those guys thanks to the new system, plus teams have more money to spend right now than ever before. It really is a perfect storm — the available free agent pitchers are all sketchy, the new national television contracts just kicked in, and the new posting system was implemented.
Given the Darvish and Dice-K costs plus general inflation, that $144M or so outlay for Tanaka actually seems like it might be a little light. I wonder if it’ll end up being closer to $160M between the contract and release fee. Either way, it’s the shape of that financial commitment that hurts the Yankees and really all big market teams. Only the contract is subject to the luxury tax, not the release fee. Darvish and Dice-K commitments were basically split right down the middle, posting fee and contract. Tanaka will be almost all contract.
The Yankees spent the last two years making move to help them get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 but lol that went right out the window as soon as they missed the postseason last year and lost nearly $60M in ticket revenue alone. Even with Robinson Cano in Seattle, the Yankees are going to be over the luxury tax threshold this coming year no matter what happens with Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. There’s certainly no way they’ll be under if they sign Tanaka or a similarly priced pitcher.
A six-year contract worth $120M contract carries a $20M average annual value, so adding Tanaka would instantly cost the team $10M in luxury tax money next year. If they are over the $189M threshold in 2015 and 2016 — seems likely given their current contract commitments — that’s another $20M total in luxury tax money thanks to Tanaka. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season and who knows what will happen with the luxury tax then. Given how healthy the game is financially, I think they’ll have to raise the threshold to $200M or so at the very least. But I digress.
Tanaka would not be a $140M-ish commitment for the Yankees. He would really be something like a $170M-ish commitment thanks to the luxury tax, maybe more depending on what happens with the next CBA. Thanks to their payroll level, every dollar the Yankees spend on player contracts from here on out is really $1.50. That’s not insignificant and, as Hal Steinbrenner has made abundantly clear the last two years, ownership is very concerned about the bottom line.
I looked at the competition for Tanaka a few weeks ago, but since then Badler reported the Mariners are seen as the favorite to sign him. At the same time, Ken Rosenthal reports the Mariners’ front office needs to persuade ownership to open up the wallet to make another big move(s). Given the size of Tanaka’s inevitable contract, just about every GM will have to convince their owner he’s worth it. I’m not sure Seattle is unique in that regard.
Based on everything we’ve heard in recent weeks, here’s how the competition for Tanaka stands right now:
- Serious Bidders: Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners, Yankees
- Second Tier Threats: Angels, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers
- Interested But Financially Disadvantaged: Braves, Diamondbacks, Indians, Orioles, Pirates
That’s half the league right there. Some of those second tier clubs could simply be playing possum and preparing a massive offer for Tanaka. They all have the financial wherewithal to make a market changing offer if ownership really wanted.
The great unknown here is Tanaka’s personal preferences. Is he simply going to shoot for the largest payday? Or does he want to go somewhere where he’s comfortable and the travel back to Japan is relatively easy? Is being able to wear #18 — considered the “ace number” in Japan — important to him? That would put the Yankees (Kuroda) and Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) at a disadvantage. Those and a million other questions can be answered only by Tanaka and his agent. The Yankees’ greatest advantage here is their money — they can match pretty much any offer he gets if they really wanted — and maybe (only maybe) the presence of Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki as well. Just because they’re all Japanese doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to get along, you know.
Tanaka is the first truly great Japanese pitcher who will be able to pick his MLB team. Darvish and Dice-K were stuck going through the posting system and both Kuroda and Iwakuma were considered good but not great pitchers when they came over as free agents. (Both have exceeded expectations in MLB.) By my unofficial count, 37 players have come over from Japan as free agents and there was no discernible location bias: 14 signed with East Coast teams (including NPB stars like Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui), 12 signed with West Coast teams (Kenji Johjima and Hideo Nomo), and the other 11 signed with Middle America teams (Tadahito Iguchi and Kosuke Fukudome). Japanese players have not shown an inclination to stay on the West Coast so the travel back to Japan is easier, but Tanaka may feel differently. We just don’t know.
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Thanks to the new posting system, Tanaka is the most compelling free agent in recent memory. He’s a complete unknown at the big league level yet the tools are there for him to be an impact player right away. It’s almost as if a draft prospect like 2009 Stephen Strasburg or 2011 Gerrit Cole were a free agent, except you don’t have to worry about stretching him out to 200 innings. Some team — and I truly hope it is the Yankees — will pay Tanaka a boatload of money without being completely sure of what they’re buying.
Hopefully any and all of your questions where answered in this post but I really doubt it. So much about this situation and Tanaka himself is mystery to us, from where we sit. Despite all the money being thrown around and all the scouting that has taken place — the Yankees have heavily scouted Tanaka, including sending both assistant GM Billy Eppler and former special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu to see him — no one knows how this guy will fare in MLB until he gets up on a mound. I find this whole situation fascinating and I’m really looking forward to seeing it play out.
The Yankees have backed out of a deal that would have moved their High Class-A affiliate from Tampa to Ocala, reports WFTV Channel 9. Susan Latham Carr says the agreement is technically suspended until April, but it is unlikely to completed. Apparently the team withdrew their relocation plan after getting some resistance from the local community regarding a proposed tax hike that would have paid for a new ballpark. The city of Ocala is out the $300k it spent trying to woo the team.
“While we expected to bring the community together with this project, it has unfortunately become a source of division,” said Ocala City Council President John McLeod. “They were a little taken aback at the first county commission meeting where they were expecting a little bit more united support, and they didn’t get that. That’s politics. That’s the way things go sometimes.”
The Yankees have been looking to move their High-A affiliate out of Tampa for a while now and this isn’t the first relocation deal that has fallen through — a plan to move the club to Orlando fell apart back in 2010. The deal with Ocala, which was agreed to back in October, included a new $45M ballpark that would have been built in time for Opening Day 2016. A half-cent sales tax increase over the next ten years would have paid for the facility.
Relocating the High-A affiliate is all about finding a better and more lucrative market. The Florida State League has historically struggled with attendance and High-A Tampa averaged only 1,827 fans per game last season, fourth best in the league. They’re stuck competing with the Rays, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, and various collegiate sports. Moving the team a hundred or so miles north to Ocala would have eliminated some of that competition.
The Yankees will surely continue to look to relocate their High-A affiliate, but they are locked into Tampa for Spring Training. That isn’t changing no matter what. The team still has a 12 years left on a 30-year contract that will keep them in Steinbrenner Field for Spring Training and Grapefruit League play.
Via Ben Badler: MLB is essentially eliminating $300k from each team’s international spending pool beginning with the 2014-2015 signing period. Since the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement was implemented, each team was given six $50k exemptions (don’t count against their pool) to use for international amateurs, but those exemptions were eliminated. Apparently this was written into the CBA.
Teams have not yet been given their international pool for this summer — that won’t happen until April — but we’ve already heard the Yankees plan to spend over their pool and deal with the penalties, which include a tax and future bonus limitations. The six $50k exemptions don’t sound like much, but they do add up. The Yankees have a knack for finding cheap young players in Latin America — SS Thairo Estrada, who is one of their better prospects, signed for $49k in 2012 — and losing the exemptions means they’ll either have to deal with more penalties and/or toe the signing pool line more carefully in the future.
Three weeks and one day from now, Masahiro Tanaka‘s 30-day negotiating window will close. He’ll either sign with one of the 30 MLB clubs prior to 5pm ET on January 24th or he’ll return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan for another season. I would bet a lot of money on the former. A lot.
The Yankees have already contacted Tanaka’s agent Casey Close — Close also represents Derek Jeter, but I don’t think that automatically gives them some kind of advantage. Close represents plenty of star-caliber players — and they’re expected to pursue him very aggressively. He was their top pitching target coming into the offseason and nothing has changed despite the team’s early-winter spending spree and the revised posting system.
That new posting system has completely changed the market for Japanese players. Rather than having teams place a blind bid to win exclusive negotiating rights, Tanaka is essentially a free agent with a $20M surcharge. Whichever team signs him sends the extra $20M to Rakuten, otherwise any team can talk to him for free. His contract will be much larger than fellow Japanese hurlers like Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. His negotiating leverage is enormous.
Of course, Tanaka is still the same pitcher today that he was a few weeks ago, before the posting process was revising. His earning potential changed dramatically but his pitching skill did not. There are questions about his ability to translate from NPB to MLB just like there are with every Japanese pitcher. Some team will pay through the nose because they believe Tanaka can make the transition seamlessly. What’s an appropriate contract though? Let’s look at some benchmarks.
Seven years, $175M-180M
These are the Felix Hernandez ($175M) and Justin Verlander ($180M) contracts, which are essentially tied for the largest pitching contract in baseball history. Clayton Kershaw will smash these numbers at some point in the next 13 months one way or another, but it’s unlikely to happen before Tanaka signs. Felix was only one year older than Tanaka is now when he signed his extension, making him the most age appropriate comparable we have. A lot more than age will be considered, obviously.
Seven years, $161M
This is CC Sabathia‘s original contract with the Yankees, which was then the largest pitching contract in history. He was three years older than Tanaka when he signed and his track record of durability was insane. Tanaka has been a horse in Japan but not on Sabathia’s level when he first signed with New York.
Six years, $144M-147M
Cole Hamels ($144M) and Zack Greinke ($147M). Both guys signed their deals at age 29 (four years older than Tanaka) and were low-level aces. Highly durable and among the best pitchers in the baseball for sure, but inconsistent enough to keep them just outside the game’s truly elite. Based on everything we’ve heard in recent weeks and months, that’s the kind of pitcher Tanaka may settle in as in MLB.
Six years, $120-124M
These numbers come from the FanGraphs crowd, which has been surprisingly accurate the last two winters. The masses tend to be pretty solid guessers, it turns out. This is more or less Matt Cain’s recent extension with the Giants (six years, $127.5M), though he surely would have gotten more as a free agent. Cain was three years older than Tanaka is now when he signed.
Six years, $100M
No pitcher in baseball history has signed a contract in this neighborhood. The closest are Kevin Brown (seven years, $105M) more than a decade ago and Adam Wainwright (five years, $97.5M) a few months ago, but that extra year changes everything. Both guys were over 30 when they signed as well. I’m including this contract in the post just because we need something between the FanGraphs crowd and…
Five years, $77.5M-82.5M
C.J. Wilson ($77.5M), A.J. Burnett ($82.5M), and John Lackey ($82.5M) territory. This has become the benchmark for very good and occasionally great starters, innings eaters who fit best as the number two guy in their rotation. All three of these guys signed their contracts after their 30th birthday, however. Tanaka just turned 25 in November and that’s a huge part of his appeal.
Six years, $51M-$60M
These are the contracts Dice-K ($51M) and Darvish ($60M) settled for when they came over to MLB. It’s worth noting Darvish can opt out of the final year and $11M of his contract if he meets some Cy Young voting criteria. It is very hard to see Tanaka settling for a deal of this size. Even five years and $51M-60M seems light. We can never really rule out this type of contract, but it is worst case scenario (for Tanaka and Close) kinda stuff.
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Tanaka’s eventual contract is tailor-made for a poll, so let’s do that. Just to be clear, this poll is asking how much you would give Tanaka, not how much you think he will eventually receive. I’m curious to know how you folks value him, not how you think teams will value him. FanGraphs did that already. Is that clear? Good. Vote away.
UPDATE: I broke the poll somehow. Please enter your vote again. Thanks.
What's the most you would offer Tanaka?
What's the most you would offer Tanaka?
First, two quick notes:
- The Yankees have released a total of 33 minor leaguers over the last few weeks, according to Matt Eddy. The most notable are RHP Sean Black, LHP Jose Diaz, LHP Tim Flight, IF Fu-Lin Kuo, and OF Shane Brown.
- Enrique Rojas reports IF Yamaico Navarro has agreed to a contract with the Samsung Lions in Korea. He gets $300k guaranteed plus incentives. The Yankees signed Navarro to a minor league deal a few weeks ago and agreed to let him out of the contract so he could head to the KBO.
Now, for the stats. This will be the final update of the year and I don’t just mean that because New Years’ is right around the corner. The various winter league seasons are either over or end tomorrow, so these stats are as good as final. I’ll be sure to post any minor league notes and what not, but as far as actual stat updates go, this is the last one until the regular season resumes in April.
Arizona Fall League (season is over, so these stats are final)
- OF Tyler Austin: 4 G, 4-12, 2 R, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP (.333/.438/.500) — left the league with a wrist injury
- UTIL Addison Maruszak: 10 G, 9-32, 8 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 10 BB, 5 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.281/.452/.344)
- 3B/C Peter O’Brien: 16 G, 12-63, 5 R, 2 2B, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 2 BB, 26 K (.190/.212/.413)
- OF Mason Williams: 22 G, 23-86, 11 R, 6 2B, 4 RBI, 8 BB, 18 K, 4 SB, 2 CS (.267/.330/.337)
- RHP Brett Gerritse: 9 G, 11.2 IP, 12 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 11 BB, 12 K, 2 HR,1 WP, 1 HB (9.26 ERA, 1.96 WHIP)
- LHP Fred Lewis: 11 G, 11 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 10 K, 1 WP (0.00 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
- LHP Vidal Nuno: 5 G, 4 GS, 19.2 IP, 20 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 18 K, 1 HR (3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)
- LHP James Pazos: 10 G, 10.1 IP, 13 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 7 BB, 9 K, 2 WP (1.74 ERA, 1.94 WHIP)