By any measure, Kei Igawa was one of the biggest busts in Yankees history. The team spent a total of $46M to acquire him ($26M posting fee and then a five-year, $20M contract) during the 2006-07 offseason, and in return they received a 68 ERA+ in 71.2 big league innings. Igawa made his final appearance in pinstripes in June 2008 and spent most of those five years in the minors.
“It was a disaster. We failed,” said Brian Cashman to Bill Pennington in July 2011 when asked to evaluated the southpaw’s tenure with the team. According to NPB Tracker, Igawa told the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal that Cashman and the team’s coaching staff had to ask him what his best pitch was during their first meeting. It became clear then and is obvious now the Yankees didn’t do their homework before investing $46M in the lefty. Failed might be an understatement.
For the first time since the Igawa fiasco, the Yankees finally dipped back into the Japanese talent pool last week, signing right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155M. The $20M release fee means the total investment is $175M, or nearly four times what they put into Igawa. Tanaka is younger and has been statistically better than Igawa was when the team signed him, but, more importantly, the Yankees made sure not to repeat their mistake and actually did their homework this time.
“We started evaluating [Tanaka] back in 2007,” said Cashman to reporters (including Andy McCullough) during a conference call last week. “So clearly we’ve been scouting over in Japan for quite some time. The evaluations on him started on him back in 2007. Certainly paid attention to him back in the 2009 WBC, when we were first able to evaluate him with a Major League baseball, against Major League hitters. This year we were at 15 of his games, including the WBC, and we sent a Major League scout from the U.S. to evaluate him in the playoffs as well.”
Tanaka was an 18-year-old rookie with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2007, so the Yankees have essentially watched him grow from a just-graduated high schooler into the best pitcher in the world who wasn’t employed by a Major League team. “By 2009, the Yankees were drooling over Tanaka and imagining what it would be like to have him in their rotation,” wrote Jack Curry following the deal. Here’s some more from his post:
Across the last few seasons, the Yankees have studied Tanaka’s impressive exploits on the mound and have seen a fierce competitor, someone that reminds them of CC Sabathia. The Yankees interviewed Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee and Darrell Rasner, former Yankees who all were teammates with Tanaka, and heard superb reports about his demeanor and toughness. By the time the Yankees made their offer to Tanaka, they had 11 different scouting evaluations from members of their organization.
When that many people evaluate a player, there are bound to be differences of opinion. It’s no surprise then that we heard one unnamed team official recently say: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.” Those differences of opinion are a good thing. There should always be someone challenging the popular opinion and forcing them to look deeper, especially when talking about a deal of this magnitude.
“We made a determined effort to put ourselves in the position to know as much as we possibly could, in the event that he was ever posted,” added Cashman. “So this has been a long, drawn-out process, not just from the financial negotiating standpoint that’s taken since he was posted. But obviously making sure that we were in a position that in the event a talent such as his became available that we were able to make recommendations accordingly, based on the scouting assessments.”
Based on various reports, several other clubs had interest in Tanaka and were offering contracts in excess of $100M, including the pitching-wise Dodgers, White Sox and Diamondbacks. The Cubs supposedly made an offer similar to the Yankees’ but refused to include the opt-out clause after the fourth year, which is why they lost out. They aren’t ready to contend immediately and didn’t want to lose him right as their window opened. Those teams all spent time scouting Tanaka and thought enough of him to make significant offers, so the Yankees aren’t the only team to consider him an impact starter. (Just FYI: The next highest bid for Igawa was $15M by the Mets.)
It’s entirely possible Tanaka will be a bust like Igawa, just way more expensive. No one can truly know how he will handle the big leagues until he gets up on a mound in games that mean something. If Tanaka does flame out or merely settles in as a number four or five starter rather than the number two he is widely considered, it won’t be because the Yankees didn’t do their homework. They’ve been on him for years and were one of several teams to think highly of his combination or age, ability, and stuff. Igawa was a disaster, no doubt about it, but the Yankees seem to have learned from that experience. They won’t be caught with too little information again.
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Top stories from last week:
- Masahiro Tanaka is a Yankee. The team signed the right-hander to a seven-year, $155M contract (plus the $20M release fee) two days before his negotiating period expired. The deal includes an opt-out after the fourth year and several other perks. David Huff was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Tanaka and was later traded to the Giants for cash considerations.
- Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either are or are not pursuing Stephen Drew. The team is unlikely to make another significant addition after landing Tanaka, though they have talked to Brett Tomko about a reunion. Grant Balfour and Logan Forsythe both landed with the Rays, so they are no longer potential pickups.
- FOX increased its ownership stake in the YES Network from 49% to 80% as part of the recent deal with News Corp. The two sides agreed to accelerate the timetable after FOX and News Corp. split into two corporations.
- Both Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams ranked among MLB.com’s top 100 prospects.
- Mark Teixeira still feels some stiffness in his surgically repaired wrist.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Update: I forgot to reset the poll following last week, so please re-submit your vote if you voted before 10:30am ET. Thanks.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
As part of the sale agreement made with News Corp. in late 2012, 21st Century FOX is increasing its ownership stake in the YES Network from 49% to 80%, it has been announced. The move is expected to be final by the end of March. News Corp. had the option of increasing its stake within 3-5 years of the original deal, but FOX and News Corp. have since split into two corporations and everyone agreed to accelerate the timetable.
“Clearly, 21st Century Fox is a great partner for us as the YES Network fulfills and expands its potential as one of the nation’s premier regional sports networks,” said Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “We are gratified that 21st Century Fox has increased their stake and investment in the network. Yankee Global Enterprises is eager to continue working with 21st Century Fox as we explore ways to take YES to even greater heights.”
“Our investment in the YES Network underscores our commitment to growing our global sports portfolio with offerings that are exceptional and unique,” said James Murdoch, COO of FOX. “We look forward to expanding our partnership with Yankee Global Enterprises and to working with the network’s management team to build on the YES Network’s success.”
Yankee Global Enterprises still owns the remaining 20% of YES and they’re getting a boatload of cash through the deal, with annual television revenue jumping from $85M to an estimated $150M. That number is expected to climb to $350M (!) annually within the next 30 years. That money is separate from what amounts to a $420M signing bonus Yankees Global Enterprises will receive from 2013-15 as part of the deal. More details on the original News Corp. deal are here, here, and here.
So what does the deal mean for you? Not much, really. Your cable bill might be a few dollars higher when YES raises the monthly fees it receives from cable providers when their contracts expire, but that is apparently a few years away. The Yankees retain control of Yankees-related programming on YES but FOX will bring some of their own programming to the network. That’s the whole point of the deal. It’s unclear what kind of programming FOX will bring at this time. A Sportscenter-esque nightly news show is reportedly not in the works.
There had been speculation the agreement with News Corp. meant the Steinbrenners were preparing to sell the Yankees, but as Richard Sandomir explained in November 2012, the deal actually makes it more likely they will hold onto the team, mostly because the tax bill would be enormous. Also, the team’s sale value would have been higher without a finalized television agreement — the potential for a huge television deal is worth more than the actual deal itself. Just look at the Dodgers sale.
Now that Masahiro Tanaka is officially a Yankee, we can finally stop talking about what it will take to land him and begin to focus on how he might actually … you know … pitch next season. Novel idea, I know. Unfortunately scouting reports and NPB stats don’t tell us much about how Tanaka will handle the transition from NPB to the AL East, nevermind the cultural change and all the off-the-field stuff he’ll have to deal with. It can be overwhelming.
Most reports have indicated Tanaka will be a number two starter in the big leagues and that means … I don’t know, really. Aces are pretty easy to identify; they’re the guys who have strung together a few years of truly elite production*. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, guys like that. You can see them a mile away. They’re in their own little world. Number twos are a little different, they’re a notch below the aces but still among the top 25-30 starters in the game. At least that’s what I think.
* That “strung together a few years” part is important in my opinion. It’s possible for a pitcher to have a random ace-like season (Esteban Loaiza!) but the true aces are the guys who do it year after year.
A few days ago Dan Szymborski (subs. req’d) ran Tanaka through his ZiPS system to come up with a projected performance over the life of the seven-year contract. Projections are not predictions, they’re just an estimation of a player’s true talent level. There’s wiggle room in each direction and that is especially true when talking about a pitcher making the transition from NPB to MLB. Here’s what the system spit out:
Let’s focus on 2014-17 since Tanaka can opt-out after the fourth year. They’re the only guaranteed years of the contract. ZiPS has Tanaka sitting in the 3.5-4.0 WAR range during those four years, averaging 3.8 WAR per seasons. Pitchers who have averaged roughly 3.8 WAR per year from 2011-12 include Kris Medlen, Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Lohse, Zack Greinke, and Doug Fister. Those guys feel like number twos right? They were among the top 25 pitchers in baseball by WAR over the last two seasons, so they fit what we talked about a paragraph or two ago.
I suspect the general sense will be that Tanaka did not live up to expectations if he manages a 3.68 ERA and 3.8 WAR next season, but I think that would actually be pretty awesome in his first year stateside. ZiPS projected Yu Darvish for a 3.62 ERA and 4.5 WAR two years ago, a bit better than his actual 3.90 ERA and 3.9 WAR. The system was in the ballpark, at least. If Tanaka finishes with, say, a 4.00 ERA and 3.0 WAR in 2014, it would still be pretty good but I think most would say he failed to meet expectations, fair or not.
The projections shouldn’t be taken to heart, obviously. It is an objective measure based on historical data though, and that’s better than guessing, which is what we’d be doing otherwise. If Tanaka lives up to the projections and gives the team something close to 4.0 WAR during the first four years of his contract, he’ll have more than lived up to the contract. If he settles in as a 3.0 WAR pitcher instead, that’ll be fine too. Maybe not what we all expected but not bad by any means.
Left-handed pitching prospect Omar Luis was arrested for driving under the influence in Tampa early Friday morning, reports the Tampa Tribune. It took two police cars to pull him over after he drove the wrong way down not one, but two one-way streets. He registered a 0.102 blood-alcohol level compared to the 0.08 legal limit. Luis was released after posting bail.
The Yankees signed the 21-year-old southpaw in July 2012 for $2.5M, their final big money international signing before the new spending restrictions were implemented. He originally agreed to a $4M bonus, but it was reduced after something popped up in his physical. Luis defected from Cuba two years ago and made his pro debut in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League last summer. DUI is very bad and hopefully he is punished accordingly. · (33) ·
As the title says, the Yankees have traded left-hander David Huff to the Giants for cash considerations, the team announced. Huff, who had a nice late-season run in a swingman role, was designated for assignment earlier this week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Masahiro Tanaka. Cash is better than nothing, which is what the team would have gotten had he cleared waivers and elected free agency. · (21) ·
MLB.com released their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball yesterday, a list that was predictably topped by Twins OF Byron Buxton. He’s the clear number one prospect in the game right now. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras round out the top ten. Nearly one-quarter (23, to be exact) of the players on the list belong to the Red Sox, Astros, or Cubs. That seems like a lot.
The Yankees had two players make the top 100: C Gary Sanchez (47th) and OF Mason Williams (75th). RHP Masahiro Tanaka is technically a rookie/prospect, but he was ineligible for list given his already lengthy pro career. Ditto White Sox 1B Jose Abreu. Jim Callis said he would have ranked Tanaka somewhere in the 4-7 range had he been eligible. MLB.com’s list is always off the beaten path a bit and that’s not a bad thing; different opinions are good. I’m not sure if we’ll see Williams on another top 100 list this spring though.
The top 100 link includes a scouting report and video for all 100 prospects, as well as a breakdown of the top ten prospects by position. Sanchez ranks fourth among catcher and 1B Greg Bird is seventh among first basemen. There’s also a companion piece looking at the best individual tools among the various prospects. · (18) ·
When the Yankees agreed to sign Masahiro Tanaka to his massive seven-year contract, it eliminated any small remaining chance they would stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold this coming season. Their payroll currently sits around $204M and, based on their Opening Day payrolls over the last three years, it appears they have another $10M or so to spend. Once you’re over the threshold, might as well go way over, right? Fill out the rest of the roster as needed.
The Yankees are now considering free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, which could potentially put another dent in the rival Red Sox’s up-the-middle alignment only weeks after the Yankees signed Boston star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
There has been a thought the Yankees might be willing to keep spending after landing star Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But while there doesn’t seem to be a push for another top starter or reliever, Drew is one free agent the Yankees are at least weighing, according to people familiar with their thinking … Although the Yankees apparently aren’t quite a bottomless pit of cash, a possible run at Drew “depends on the price” according to a person familiar with their thinking.
This makes sense, right? The Yankees have an obvious need for infield help and Drew is substantially better than any other free agent infielder left on the market. Agent Scott Boras has indicated Drew is willing to play somewhere other than his natural shortstop position according to Peter Gammons, which is good because Derek Jeter isn’t going to change positions. I know it, you know it, and the Yankees know it. It ain’t happening.
Now, just a little more than 14 hours after Heyman’s initial report, Buster Olney reported this:
Am told Yankees are still not weighing a run at Stephen Drew. In other words: Status quo.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 24, 2014
Ken Rosenthal backed up Olney’s report, saying “sources say team essentially has reached spending limit” while noting a more likely move is a trade involving players with similar salaries, like Ichiro Suzuki for a reliever (J.J. Putz?).
The whole “sources say team has interest in a player, team then denies report and interest in a player” routine is so very common during the offseason. Both sides, the club and the player (and his agent), want to control information. Agents will float reports about teams being interested in their players even if they aren’t just to drum up some leverage. Teams will deny interest in a player even if they want him because they don’t want other clubs to get involved and potentially drive up the price.
We see this all the time and it’s possible (if not likely) that neither Heyman and Olney (and Rosenthal) is wrong. The Yankees could indeed have interest in Drew and be denying it at the same time. They may want to keep things quiet so the Red Sox stay out of the mix. It’s also possible Boras leaked a fake rumor as a way of creating the appearance of a bidding war in an effort to coax every last dollar out of Boston. This isn’t some kind of crazy conspiracy theory. This stuff happens all winter and especially with rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.
Teams and agents manipulate the media in an effort to control information and, for the most part, fans eat this stuff up because we love talking about potential roster moves and playing GM. At the same time, all the conflicting reports are just awful. The 24-hour news cycle is really second-by-second, given me updates in real time news cycle nowadays, so every little blurb finds it’s way onto the web and in front of fans. It’s exhausting. It really is.
It makes perfect sense for the Yankees to have interest in Drew following the Tanaka signing. It also makes sense that Boras would try to use them as negotiating leverage against the Red Sox. I don’t know what to believe and this is the aspect part of the offseason.