In the span of about four hours yesterday, we went from wondering where Masahiro Tanaka will sign to the Yankees announcing his new seven-year contract. It was a fun morning, no doubt about it. The contract is worth $155M and includes an opt-out after the fourth year. Add the $20M release fee on top of that for a total commitment of $175M. Here are some thoughts following the deal.
1. Might as well just start with this to get it out of the way: I think the contract is more than reasonable and probably a bargain when you consider what other high-end 25-year-olds would get on the open market. No, he’s never pitched in MLB, but it’s not like they plucked him out of a beer league. The contract is expensive, don’t get me wrong, but as Hal Steinbrenner said yesterday, “market value is what one or more teams are willing to pay today.” Several other clubs were reportedly willing to pay Tanaka upwards of $20M+ annually, so the Yankees weren’t out in their own little world with this offer. It’s comforting knowing other teams believed in his talent enough to offer similar dollars. I’d feel differently if Tanaka was a few years older but the team is (theoretically) buying almost all of his peak years since he just turned 25 in November. If he pitches like prime Dan Haren (the most common comp) from ages 25-28 and then opts out, it will have been a brilliant signing. It’s the next contract, the one that comes after the opt-out and involves buying a whole bunch of decline years, that will be the really scary one.
2. Was it not amazing how the whole process was kept quiet? We didn’t hear a peep about negotiations between the Yankees and Tanaka and certainly nothing about an offer or details of their face-to-face meeting. Nothing at all. It was like that for most teams too, with the Cubs being the notable exception. Theo Epstein’s regime always seems to leak everything to media. It happened with the Red Sox and it’s happening again in Chicago. Agent Casey Close wanted things kept quiet and managed to pull it off even though he was dealing with some of the game’s largest markets and reporters in two countries. Scott Boras is still the king of all agents, but Close has really shined these last 14 months with the Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke deals.
3. I did this exercise a few weeks ago and it’s probably worth revisiting: how many games would the Yankees win in 2014 as presently constructed? That means Tanaka in the rotation but question marks in the bullpen and on the infield. We can agree they’re in the 85-89 win range right now, right? Maybe it’s more like 82-86 or 87-91, but the point is they are right on the postseason bubble. Each added win is so incredibly important to the Yankees right now — both financially and in terms of their #brand — because the value of jumping from a bubble team to a legit contender is so very high, the highest point on the so-called win curve. Going from 80 wins to 82 wins or 98 wins to 100 wins means little in the grand scheme of things, but going from 86 to 88 or 89 to 91 is huge. We can’t lump the Yankees under the general contract analysis/dollars-per-WAR umbrella for a number of reasons, one being their payroll. One win (or one WAR) isn’t worth $5M or $7M or whatever it is these days to the Yankees. It’s worth much more because of how much they depend on being competitive and where they presently sit on that win curve. If the Yankees are a true talent 88-win team right now (reasonable estimate, no?), adding players to get that 89th and 90th and 91st win will be the most crucial additions of the winter.
4. Now, that said, the Yankees snuffed out any lingering chance of staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold with the Tanaka signing yesterday, so they should go all out and continue adding payroll. I have their payroll at roughly $204M right now (last update), which is about $10M less than their average Opening Day payroll over the last three years. If they’re willing to go up that high again (nevermind meeting last year’s $228.1M payroll), there’s still enough room to add two pretty good pieces to the team. It’s probably not enough for Stephen Drew but that $10M might buy them Luis Ayala and a discounted Grant Balfour, for example. Or maybe Fernando Rodney (ewww) and Jeff Baker. Brian Cashman said the team is done with their “heavy lifting” yesterday, but spending that last $10M to fill out the margins of the roster really isn’t “heavy lifting,” is it? The bullpen is the easiest place upgrade right now and that last $10M could give the team those extra two or three wins to put them over the top.
5. This is probably just a coincidence, but the total outlay for Tanaka was identical to the team’s final offer to Robinson Cano. Perhaps they had budgeted 7/175 for Cano and then another ~7/150 for Tanaka coming into the offseason, but when Robbie made it clear he was going to the Mariners, they switched gears and gave the ~7/150 to Jacoby Ellsbury and spent the 7/175 to Tanaka. If that’s the case and they had re-signed Cano, would they have a) missed out on Tanaka because their contract offer would have been capped at $130M (plus the $20M release fee on top of that), or b) bid something like $75M under the old posting system and offered him a $75M contract (the Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzka commitments were split almost right down the middle, half posting fee and half contract)? This offseason has been so fascinating because it has played out so unexpectedly. If you had told me in like, September that the Yankees would lose Cano to the Mariners and commit $175M to Tanaka, I would have thought you were completely crazy.
6. There’s a very real chance Tanaka will be the youngest player on the team’s Opening Day roster, perhaps by as much as eight or nine months. There are only 14 players younger than him on the 40-man roster right now, and I think the only ones with a realistic chance to make the team out of camp are Cesar Cabral, Michael Pineda, Jose Ramirez, and I guess Zoilo Almonte if Ichiro Suzuki is traded. Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could make the team if Frankie Cervelli gets hurt, but that’s all. (Tanaka’s younger than Dellin Betances … by seven months!) I don’t really know why I brought this up. I just thought it was interesting. The Yankees haven’t had much luck with young players in recent years but I didn’t think a 25-year-old free agent would wind up becoming their youngest player. Goes to show how important Tanaka is to the future of the franchise. He’s a crucial piece as they finish transitioning out of the Derek Jeter/late-90s dynasty era.
7. This isn’t all that important but I am curious to see what number Tanaka wears. He wore 18 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and that, along with 11, are considered the traditional “ace numbers” in Japan. Those numbers are already taken though (Brett Gardner and Hiroki Kuroda). Tanaka did wear 15 and 17 in the last two World Baseball Classics but he’s definitely not getting the former — it’s retired for Thurman Munson. Seventeen is open though. Know what number would be cool for Tanaka? 21. It’ll never happen though.
Via Joel Sherman: For the very first time, someone with the Yankees acknowledged David Robertson will be the team’s closer this coming season. “I have a lot of confidence in Robertson and so does [Joe Girardi],” said Hal Steinbrenner. “Robertson is going to be our closer, and I believe he will do a good job. We have done a lot to improve our team and we just have to understand that you cannot be perfect everywhere.”
Robertson, 28, has been one of the top setup men in baseball these last three years (1.91 ERA and 2.31 FIP) and has done pretty much everything you could ask a potential closer to do before actually giving him the job. I want the Yankees to add some more bullpen arms but making Robertson the closer is the right move. There’s nothing left for him to prove in a setup role and if the Yankees don’t let him close in 2014, some other team will give him that opportunity when he hits free agency after the season. · (68) ·
The Padres have traded utility man Logan Forsythe to the Rays in a seven-player trade involving a whole bunch of minor leaguers you’ve probably never heard of. Lefty Alex Torres, who was dominant in relief last season, is the key piece going back to San Diego.
The Yankees spoke to the Padres about their extra infielders earlier this offseason and Forsythe was viewed as the most realistic trade target. I wrote more about him right here. Not a huge missed opportunity for the Yankees, but Forsythe probably would have jumped to the front of the line for their third base opening. · (7) ·
Wooo Masahiro Tanaka! That was a fun day. The Yankees (finally) got their pitcher, agreeing to a massive seven-year, $155M contract with Tanaka just two days before his signing deadline. The deal is already signed and everything. He’s a Yankee. I was on the Getting Blanked podcast earlier today to talk about Tanaka and the team in general, so check that out. It’s only 15 minutes or so, nothing crazy.
Once you’re done with that, use this as tonight’s open thread. The Knicks are the only local team in action, so talk about that game, Tanaka, or anything else. Have at it.
Via Buster Olney: In the wake of the Masahiro Tanaka deal, the Yankees internally believe they are done adding pricey free agents this winter. “I don’t think it’s realistic to think there’ll be more heavy lifting that can take place,” said Brian Cashman during a press conference this afternoon.
The team has signed Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Beltran to deals worth more than $15M annually this winter. I don’t think it’s surprising the Yankees are done with the big money additions but they still have holes to fill, specifically in the bullpen. Adding another infielder and heck, even another starter would be nice as well. · (87) ·
Well that was fast. The Yankees have officially signed right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract, the team announced. He will be the seventh Japanese-born player in team history (Hideki Irabu, Hideki Matsui, Kei Igawa, Hiroki Kuroda, Ryota Igarashi, Ichiro Suzuki). The 2004 Dodgers are the only other team to have two Japanese pitchers in one rotation (Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii).
To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, left-hander David Huff was designated for assignment. He had a nice run as a swingman late last year but he doesn’t really have a spot on the roster thanks to Matt Thornton, Vidal Nuno, and Cesar Cabral. Huff would have been a long man/second lefty in the bullpen at best. Maybe he’ll clear waivers and stick around as a non-40-man player, but electing free agency is more likely. · (77) ·
After weeks and months of waiting, the Yankees finally got their man. The team agreed to a seven-year contract worth $155M with right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Wednesday morning, a deal that includes an opt-out after the fourth year. Add in the $20M release fee the team must pay the Rakuten Golden Eagles and the total investment is potentially $175M. The release fee will be paid out in installments.
Pretty much everything we know about Tanaka the pitcher is in this post. Now that he’s come to an agreement, some details about the contract itself and the Yankees’ pursuit have come to light. Here’s a roundup, courtesy of Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, Dan Barbarisi, Ronald Blum, Jeff Passan, Bryan Hoch, Jon Heyman, and Anthony McCarron.
The Yankees sent an eight-person crew to Los Angeles to meet with Tanaka face-to-face a few weeks ago, when he was essentially interviewing teams. Those eight people: team president Randy Levine, GM Brian Cashman, assistant GMs Jean Afterman and Billy Eppler, manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, player development staffer Trey Hillman, and translator George Rose. Hillman just rejoined the organization and spent four years managing in Japan not too long ago. Hideki Matsui made a recruiting call at some point as well.
After listening to each team’s pitch and mulling over the offers, the two sides haggled a bit and Tanaka’s camp informed the Yankees they had to offer the seventh year to get a deal done, so they did. He may have turned down more money from another team, reportedly. I’m guessing the Cubs were the top bidder if another team did make a better offer, but that’s just a guess. The Yankees were informed Tanaka accepted their offer at 1am ET this morning, 3pm local time in Japan. I guess all the reporters were sleeping because the news didn’t break for another nine hours or so.
“I have been saying for well over a year now that it makes sense to meet [the $189 million threshold], but not at the expense of a championship-caliber team,” said Hal Steinbrenner following the signing. “I felt we needed another starter. We were not where we needed to be, in my opinion. So this should not be a surprise because [Tanaka] was the best free-agent pitcher available. He is one of the greatest players Japan has ever produced. He is tough. He has thrived under pressure. He will fit in well to New York.
“Market value is what one or more teams are willing to pay today. He is one of the best players Japan has produced and he has played well on the big stage in big games. I think he will be great for our organization and will do very, very well. But, honestly, I don’t feel that [we'd spend whatever it takes] for any player, as we showed earlier this offseason [with Robinson Cano]. That is not good for the family, our partners or the organization. There was a limit of what we were willing to do, but, yes, I felt it was important to get him.”
“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win. We had to make sure we had enough pitching to go together with our new lineup,” said Hank Steinbrenner following the signing. “There has been criticism of myself and my brother the last couple years that, gee, if our dad was still in charge, we’d be spending this and spending that and doing whatever it takes to win. He didn’t have revenue sharing, at least for most of his time. That’s what these people in the sports media don’t seem to get. If it wasn’t for revenue sharing, we’d have a payroll of $300M a year if we wanted to. So we’re doing this despite having to pay all that revenue sharing.”
The Yankees will not have Tanaka take a second physical. He was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache when he was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago as a way to facilitate the process, so the team reviewed the test results and are comfortable with them. It’s exactly what they did with Hiroki Kuroda two years ago. ElAttrache is the Dodgers’ team doctor who also consults for NFL, NBA, and NHL teams as well as PGA golfers. He’s not some quack like Dr. Nick. It’s surprising the Yankees aren’t having their doctors look at Tanaka but it’s not like they’re signing him sight unseen either.
The contract is very straight forward: Tanaka will earn $22M in each of the first six years and $23M in the seventh year. The average annual value is $22.14M for luxury tax purposes. Agent Casey Close insisted on the opt-out clause, which is the new trend in baseball. Close also secured opt-outs for Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw recently, plus the Yankees gave one to CC Sabathia a few years ago. A.J. Burnett opted out of his contract with the Blue Jays before signing with New York. They’re the cost of doing business these days.
Tanaka just turned 25 in November, so the four guaranteed years of his contract will cover his age 25-28 seasons. That’s really awesome, those should be his best years, at least in theory. The opt-out allows Tanaka to test free agency at age 29, when he could land another huge payday. That second contract, the one he signs at 29, will be the real scary one. We can consider this a four-year, $88M deal with a three-year, $67M player option for all intents and purposes, but there is some luxury tax calculation difference between an opt-out and a player option. It’s complicated.
The Yankees are going to have to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate Tanaka sometime before 5pm ET on Friday. He has to physically sign the contract by the deadline. David Huff seems most likely to get the roster axe but Ramon Flores is another option. The team could also work out a small trade to clear a spot. Either way, it’ll have to be done relatively soon.
These deals always contain some fun perks. In addition to the huge salary, Tanaka also receives a $35k moving allowance, a $100k annual housing allowance to be used in New York or near the team’s Spring Training complex in Tampa, and $85k to hire an interpreter of his choice. The Yankees are also giving him four first class round trip plane tickets from New York and Japan. Oh, and he gets a full no-trade clause.
In terms of total dollars, the $155M guarantee is fifth largest pitching contract in history, behind Kershaw ($215M), Justin Verlander ($180M), Felix Hernandez ($175M), and CC Sabathia ($161M). It is the ninth largest pitching contract in history in terms of average annual value, behind Kershaw ($30.7M), Verlander ($25.7M), Felix ($25M), Greinke ($24.5M), Sabathia ($24.4M), Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee (both $24M), and Johan Santana ($22.9M). It is the 18th largest contract in baseball history overall and by frickin’ far the largest ever given to an international player. The six-year, $68M deal the White Sox gave Jose Abreu earlier this winter was the previous record.
After seeing ratings and attendance (and revenue) plummet last year, the Yankees went all-out this winter to improve their team. They still have holes, yes, but they’re also much improved. Tanaka was their top pitching target all along and now he’s in pinstripes.
The Yankees have reportedly won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Ken Rosenthal reports that they have agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract, with an opt-out after 2017. Counting the $20 million posting fee, that amounts to seven years and $175 million, or precisely what they were offering Robinson Cano earlier this off-season.
Mike already told you everything there is to know about Tanaka, so now seems like as good a time as any for a refresher. NPB Tracker also has a nice breakdown of Tanaka’s pitch data and game logs from the past few years, though it does not include 2013 data.
The new posting system, combined with the Yankees’ desperate need for another starting pitcher, created this situation. In the past the Yankees might have bid $75 million and worked out a $50 or $60 million contract. Just yesterday Joel Sherman wondered if the Yankees’ financial advantages might not be the same as in the past: “And is it possible there are organizations beyond the Dodgers ready to do the monetary staredown with the Yanks?” Apparently not.
The Yankees have now spent $474 million this off-season, and they might not be done. Now that they’re over the luxury cap, they can continue flexing their muscles by spending money to fill the current roster holes. The next few weeks could get interesting.
The Yankees came into this offseason with a lot of needs. They needed to upgrade their lineup, their rotation, and their bullpen, so pretty much entire team. The offense was addressed weeks ago and the team is working on the pitching staff at the moment — only 55 hours or so left in Masahiro Tanaka‘s signing period! — but there is still more work to be done. There never isn’t a move to be made, really.
One spot we haven’t discussed this winter is Mark Teixeira‘s backup at first base. That position is a low priority in the grand scheme of things and that was especially true this offseason. There were so many other and more important things to worry about first. Now that we’re getting closer to Spring Training and Teixeira says his wrist is still stiff — probably not that uncommon less than seven months out from surgery, but still not ideal — we should probably sit down to think about this a bit.
Russ Canzler is the obvious in-house option. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal a few weeks ago and his best position is first base, so he’s a logical option. I expect him to start the year with Triple-A Scranton, though winning a bench spot in camp isn’t completely out of the question. After that there’s … uh … Kelly Johnson? He has a total of 18 innings (across three games) at the position in his career, all last year with the Rays. Not exactly a ton of experience.
That’s pretty much it as a far as internal options. Playing Brian McCann at first every once in a while seems like a good idea but he’s never played the position during his professional career. I can’t help but think back to Gary Sheffield in 2006, when the Yankees stuck him at first and he looked completely lost. Like he’d never picked up a glove in his life. First base is the easiest position on the field but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough to learn, especially on the fly. This applies to guys like Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, and even Derek Jeter as well.
As far as options outside the organization, the list of available free agent first baseman is pretty small right now. From MLBTR:
Jeff Baker (33)
Yuniesky Betancourt (32)
Casey Kotchman (31)
Kendrys Morales (30)
Carlos Pena (36)
Chad Tracy (34)
Ty Wigginton (36)
Betancourt and Wigginton are both terrible and not worth roster spots, Tracy and Kotchman have both been awful in three of the last four years, and Pena is pretty much toast at this point. Baker would be a fine pickup given his ability to pound lefties and play all over the field, plus the Yankees have interest in signing him, so that’s cool. He could backup Teixeira.
At this point Morales would be a long-term solution, as in Teixeira’s wrist acts up and he needs to miss a big chunk of the season again. Otherwise what would the Yankees do with him? They already have about five guys slated to spend a bunch of time at DH next year and adding another — Morales has played 214 games at DH and only 59 at first the last two years — doesn’t make sense at all. They have nowhere to play him. If Tex hurts his wrist again and misses a bunch of time, sure, Morales would be a fit. But that’s the only situation in which he makes sense for the current roster.
There is one other free agent out there who would fit the roster as a backup first baseman, but he’s hiding away under another position. Here, look:
Michael Young (37)
Sneaky. The Yankees had interest in Young earlier this winter but Ken Rosenthal says he’s been mulling retirement so he can spend more time with his family. Luring a player away from retirements feels like something right out of the Yankees’ roster building playbook, so we can’t rule him out just yet. Young has played a bunch of first (and third base) in recent years and his bat wasn’t terrible last season (102 wRC+), though I’m not sure how much gas is left in that tank at age 37. Just a year ago he hit to a 79 wRC+, remember.
I think that, if the season started today, Johnson would be the backup first baseman whenever Teixeira needs a day off almost by default. That last open bench spot figures to go to a second/third base capable infielder like Scott Sizemore or Eduardo Nunez, not a lumbering guy like Canzler. That could always change but right now it seems unlikely. If Teixeira suffers a setback in camp and has to miss the start of the season, I think the Yankees would do what they did last year and wait to see who gets released in March. Scrounging the scrap heap for a first baseman in Spring Training is not ideal, but given the current roster construction, that’s probably what it’ll come to if Teixeira gets hurt. Until then, Johnson seems to be the guy.
Via Jeff Passan & Tim Brown: Members of the players’ association sought to kick Alex Rodriguez out of the union, but were told it is not legally possible. Players felt betrayed after A-Rod sued the union as part of the suit he filed in an effort to get an injunction against his record 162-game suspension.
“It’s beyond disappointment,” said one unnamed player. “What brought it beyond disappointment was the fact he’s suing the union. Guys understand people make bad decisions, they lie when they’re embarrassed or trying to avoid punishment. Those are human qualities. Guys understand. But what made guys incensed is he would bring a suit against the union.”
A-Rod’s suit says the union and late chief Michael Weiner “completely abdicated its responsibility” to defend him during the appeals process. From what I understand he had to sue both MLB and MLBPA to have a chance in a federal case; leaving the union out of the suit wouldn’t have worked. Ironically, trying to kick A-Rod out of the union may strengthen his case. · (36) ·