Archive for Kei Igawa
The following is a guest post from long-time reader Sung-Min Kim, who you can follow on Twitter at @SungMinKim116.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the offseason of 2006~07, I always think “what if?” the Yankees had signed Ted Lilly. Theodore Roosevelt Lilly, as you may recall, was a Yankee long time ago until the trade that brought Jeff Weaver to Bronx (“Lilly had cried the day in 2002 when Cashman traded him.”) The lefty went on to have few solid seasons with the Athletics and the Jays – 9.7 cumulative fWAR from 2003-06 – until he hit free agency for the first time after the ‘06 season. Lilly strongly wanted to be a Yankee again but the team let him take the Cubs’ offer. Actually, they had someone else in mind by the time Lilly agreed with the Cubs – on November 29, 2006, the Yankees had won the bidding to talk with the Japanese lefty, Kei Igawa. Lilly signed for a four-year, $40 million contract and the Yankees spent a total of $46 million dollars ($26 million in bidding, and $20 million in 5-year contract) for Igawa.
Safe to say, the Bronx Bombers probably should have gone the other way. During the four-year contract with the Cubs, and later the Dodgers, Lilly compiled 12.8 cumulative fWAR — a top 30 figure among the starters who pitched between 2007-10. Igawa, on the other hand, made only 16 total appearances during the five-year contract while compiling an abysmal -0.2 fWAR. Looking at it any shape or form, the Yankees lost out pretty big on this one. While in the Yankee organization, Igawa became the laughingstock of the fans, toiling in the minors for the most of his contract. But before the ill-advised decision by the Yankees front office, what got Igawa the Yankee attention? Who was he?
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.
Via NPB Tracker (translated article), Kei Igawa has signed a two-year contract worth ¥200M with the Orix
Blue Wave Buffaloes. That’s roughly $2.5M in American dollars. He spent the first part of his career with the Hanshin Tigers, so he’s joining a new team.
Igawa, 32, will go down as one of the most spectacular busts in Yankees history. They invested $46M in him — $26M posting fee plus $20M contract — only to receive a 6.66 ERA in 71.2 IP. Igawa spent the final three years of his five-year deal pitching exclusively in the minors. The Yankees admitted they didn’t do their homework before signing him. Igawa declined two opportunities to return to Japan in recent years, saying he wanted to see his time in the U.S. through.
Kei Igawa’s career with the Yankees is effectively over, the lefty was placed on the minor league disabled list about a week before the season ended and a month or so before his contract was set to expire. Patrick at NPB Tracker passed along a recent interview with Igawa from the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal, in which he says he wants to sign with an MLB club that will give him a legit chance at a big league job this offseason. I, and I think several of you, assumed that he’d go back to Japan after the season, but the dude still wants to chase the dream. More power to him.
Interestingly enough, Igawa said in the interview that Brian Cashman and then-manager Joe Torre had to ask him what his best pitch was in a meeting during his first season in New York. Pretty good sign that the team may not have done enough homework before acquiring him.
Yesterday was a rather hectic day in Yankeeland, so I’m sure a few of you didn’t notice that Kei Igawa was put on Double-A Trenton’s disabled list. The minor league season ends on Monday, so for all intents and purposes, the DL stint ends his season and also his time with the Yankees. Five years after joining the organization, Igawa’s contract will expire in a few weeks and the Yankees will be free of the scarlet letter they’ve worn since 2007.
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It all started with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the next great Japanese pitcher that was going to take MLB by storm. The Yankees bid handsomely for his services after the 2006 season, somewhere between $32-33M, but the Red Sox blew everyone out of the water with a $51.1M submission. Off to Boston went Dice-K, leaving the Yankees still in need of another arm. That’s where Igawa came in, and he had all the credentials. He was a two-time strikeout champ with the Hanshin Tigers, a former league MVP, a former Eiji Sawamura Award winner (Cy Young equivalent), left-handed, and just 27 years old. It was a fit for a team in need of an arm.
The Yankees won the rights to negotiate a contract with Igawa with a $26,000,194 bid in November 2006, the last $194 an ode to his strikeout total from the previous season. “We have been following Kei Igawa’s very successful and accomplished career in Japan,” said Brian Cashman after the winning bid was announced. “We are excited about the opportunity to begin the negotiating process with him.” Then-Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine offered a more ominous statement after the news broke, saying: “The first time I saw him, I thought he was a lot better. Four years ago, he was a lot better than he is now. But he’s still good.”
Twenty-eight days after winning the bid, the Yankees inked Igawa to a five-year contract worth $20M that would pay him exactly $4M every year from 2007 through 2011. He started the ’07 season as the number four starter behind Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and Carl Pavano, and his first start could not have gone any worse. The first batter he faced, Brian Roberts of the Orioles, hit a fly ball to the warning track in dead center, and two batters later Nick Markakis welcomed Igawa to the States with a solo homer. Baltimore tacked on four more runs in the second inning thanks to a bases loaded walk and a Melvin Mora double, and then two innings later Mora went deep for a two-run homer. Igawa’s first start consisted of eight hits, three walks, seven runs, 17 fly balls, three line drives, two strikeouts, and three ground balls.
His next two starts went much better, three runs in 5.1 IP against the Athletics and two runs in six innings against the Indians. After the then-Devil Rays hung seven runs on him in 4.1 IP in his fourth start, the Yankees took advantage of an off day to skip Igawa’s turn in the rotation. His best outing as a Yankee came five days after the disaster in Tampa, when he tossed six scoreless innings against the Red Sox in relief in Jeff Karstens, who had his leg broken by a line drive in the first inning. I was actually at that game, and I remember Igawa pitching exclusively from the stretch and me thinking that maybe that would help get him on the right track mechanically. Alas, it did not.
Igawa made seven more starts after his relief outing against the Sox, allowing 29 runs and 47 hits in 35.2 IP. He did strike out 32, but he had walked 19 and given up ten (ten!) homeruns. The Yankees pulled the plug in early-August and sent Igawa to the minors, but not to Triple-A. They send him to their minor league complex in Tampa, where the pitching instructors were waiting for him. “That didn’t work out too well,” said Igawa years later, after the Yankees tried to overhaul his mechanics by changing everything from his arm action to his leg kick to where he stood on the rubber.
He made 13 minor league starts after the demotion, pitching to a 3.49 ERA with a 77-18 K/BB in 77.1 IP. The Padres claimed Igawa off trade waivers in August, and rather than work out a deal or simply foist his entire contract contract onto San Diego, the Yankees kept him because “ownership was not willing to let him go yet.” Igawa rejoined the team in September, making one one-out appearance in relief and one five-inning start in game 157, when the Yankees were more concerned about lining up their playoff rotation than winning.
The Yankees sent Igawa back to the minors to start the 2008 season, though they did call him up for an early-May spot start against the Tigers. It was a disaster, an eleven-hit, six-run effort in three innings. A return trip to the minors followed, then Igawa resurfaced in late-June as bullpen depth for a doubleheader against the Mets. June 27th, 2008 would be Igawa’s final appearance in the Major Leagues, a one-inning outing in which he allowed singles to Fernando Tatis and Jose Reyes in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees won 9-0. He was designated for assignment after the game, removed from the 40-man roster less than two-years after the Yankees invested more than $46M in him.
It’s been more than three full years since that happened, and Igawa has toiled away in the team’s minor league system ever since. He’s set the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise record for career wins (29), and is in the all-time top ten in career losses (ninth), starts (fifth), innings (fifth), hits allowed (sixth), runs allowed (tenth), homeruns allowed (second), and strikeouts (second). That’s going back to when SWB was the Phillies’ affiliate as well. When the Yankees didn’t have a place for Igawa in Triple-A this year, they sent him to Double-A Trenton. He moved between the two levels whenever a spare arm was needed, missed several weeks with an elbow injury, came back briefly, and was just placed on the DL again. Unceremoniously, his Yankees’ career ended with a devilish 6.66 ERA in 71.2 big league innings and a 3.83 ERA in 533 minor league innings.
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Bill Pennington of The New York Times profiled Igawa back in July, an article that painted the Yankees in an unfavorable light, perhaps intentionally. Igawa, quiet, prideful and marching to the beat of his own drum, lived in his East Side apartment during the entire length of his contract, commuting to games in Scranton or Trenton or wherever with his translator Subaru Takeshita. He had trouble with the cultural transition and being away from his family for seven months a year, but he refused to go home to pitch in Japan. Cashman twice worked out a deal that would have sent Igawa to a Japanese club, but the now 32-year-old declined each time. It was made clear to him that he would not be returning the majors. The Yankees simply had no interest in seeing him wear their uniform again.
Igawa’s tenure in pinstripes exemplifies the team’s pitching failures over the last eight years or so. They paid top dollar for a less than elite talent, but because they are the Yankees, they were able to bury him in the minors and essentially eat the contract. Pitching up in the zone with a fastball that often failed to crack 90 mph was no recipe for success in the AL East, and the fly balls he produced often went over the fence and to the wall for extra bases. The Yankees received next to nothing for their investment, and will be free of the burden in the coming weeks. “It was a disaster,” said Cashman recently. “We failed.”
That quote comes from Brian Cashman and refers to Kei Igawa, the $46M poster boy of Yankees’ pitching busts. Bill Pennington of The New York Times published a lengthy feature on the now 32-year-old southpaw today, which goes into detail about his time with the Yankees. Igawa still lives in Manhattan and commutes daily to Scranton or Trenton or wherever he may be and is considered a “great clubhouse guy” by the organization and his teammates, but he struggled greatly with the transition to MLB and the United States. The Yankees tried to re-work his delivery, but it didn’t take. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Within the piece we learn that the Cashman had twice negotiated deals with Japanese clubs that would have let Igawa return home, but he refused both times despite being told (very explicitly) that he was not coming back to the majors. Cashman was also prepared to trade Igawa to the Padres after they claimed him off waivers in August 2007, but “ownership was not willing to let him go yet.” Give it a read, it gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.
Kei Igawa has had a rough go of it in the United States. Signed in December of 2006 as the Yanks’ response to Daisuke Matsuzaka, the lefty never emerged as a viable Major Leaguer. He made just 14 appearances in 2007 and two in 2008 before landing in Scranton as a perennial AAA starter. His 6.66 ERA, 1.758 WHIP and 1.43 K/BB ratio are testament to his struggles.
But while Igawa, frustratingly for him and the Yanks, toils away as a $4 million minor league arm, none of that matters when it comes to family. Igawa hails from Oarai which is in the the Ibaraki Prefecture, and his hometown was hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami earlier this week. On Friday, as Major League Baseball began working on its own aid efforts, Igawa could not get a hold of his family.
Luckily, Igawa reached his family on Saturday, and everyone is OK. The left-hander is leaving camp to attend to his family and will be returning to Japan for the foreseeable future.
It’s easy to dismiss Igawa. He’s been a huge bust, representative of the way the Yanks went about building a starting rotation in the mid-2000s and hadn’t even made a Spring Training appearance this year. He’ll play out the last year of this contract exclusively at Scranton before returning to Japan to pick up the pieces of his baseball career. But when tragedy strikes, it doesn’t matter. No one should have to live through the uncertainty of the devastation of an earthquake, and it’s a relief to all involved that the Igawas are alive and as well as can be.
The Yankees as a club have given $100,000 to the Red Cross and Salvation Army as part of the relief efforts, and I’m sure the club will do more in the coming weeks. They have a deep presence in the Pacific and strong ties to Japanese baseball. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the terrible earthquake in Japan,” Hal Steinbrenner said yesterday. “We hope that the international community does everything in its power to support and assist the Japanese people in their time of need.”
I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s? I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club. What % do you think it will occur?
If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.
I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.
Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.
Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?
Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.
A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?
This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.
I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.
Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?
Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.
If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.
This week’s edition of the mailbag brings queries about Chris Garcia, the difference between minor league levels, the ghost of Kei Igawa, and then the Mets and Red Sox. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in a question.
Bruce asks: It’s funny (but not really) that after all the money thrown at Kei Igawa that he’s never even mentioned as a possible desperation move to fill the fifth slot in the rotation. He’s got to be the highest-priced “organizational player” ever.
Yep, Igawa was a spectacular bust, and it shows you how little faith the organization has in him by not even mentioning him as a candidate for the back of the rotation. Hell, he didn’t get an invite to Major League Spring Training, he’s with the kids in minor league camp. Igawa’s contract comes off the books after the season, and the only reason they haven’t gotten rid of him yet is because if they do so, they’ll get stuck paying the luxury tax on his contract. There’s no harm in having him soak up innings at Triple-A, but that’s pretty much the only thing he’s qualified for these days.
Cody asks: Whatever happened to Christian Garcia? I know he had TJ surgery last season and then the Yankees released him. Any chance they bring him back if all goes well?
Good timing on this question, Chad Jennings posted an update yesterday. Allow me to quote…
Once a highly touted pitching prospect in the Yankees system, right-hander Christian Garcia was released last season after a series of injuries derailed his promising career. The Yankees are aware that Garcia, 25, has been working out and plans to throw for scouts, but I was told today that the Yankees have no plans of bringing Garcia back to the organization.
Garcia blew out his elbow in his first start last year, so he’s about nine or ten months out from his second Tommy John surgery. The kid just couldn’t stay healthy, and there’s really no reason to believe he ever will. I don’t fault the Yankees for not wanting to bring him back at all. It’s a shame, he had a great arm.
Joseph asks: With all of the talk of Brackman having an outside shot of the rotation, it had me thinking which was the harder transition from leagues in the minors. Is it from High-A to AA or from AA to AAA.
The biggest jump is Triple-A to MLB, no doubt about it, but in the minors only, going from Single-A to Double-A is probably the biggest jump. Double-A is the first time hitters will consistently run into pitchers that have some sort of game plan and can throw a breaking ball for strikes, while pitchers will regularly face batters that will lay off stuff out of the zone or sit on a 2-0 fastball. It’s not so much that the physical talent is that much better in Double-A than Single-A, it’s that the preparation and experience is. That’s why they say Double-A is the great equalizer. If a kid does well at that level, chances are he’ll have himself a nice big league career.
Chris asks: If the Mets completely fall apart and spend very little over the next few years could they create heavy debate about being a team in NYC and collecting a revenue sharing check? I can see this becoming a battle in the next CBA if a team like the Mets, in a massive media market spends very little. This situation may spur on a salary floor. What do you guys think?
I don’t think that’ll happen. The Mets, as far as I know, are profitable in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, advertisements, etc., and that’s what revenue sharing payments are based on. Even with the Madoff stuff, the team would really need to fall in the dumps to start getting some revenue sharing money. With a nine-figure payroll, it won’t happen anytime soon.
Matt asks: With the recent Albert Pujols contract negotiations, I have begun to think about what his value is. It seems to me that the value of a win is greater the higher above replacement it is. Doesn’t it make sense that a player who is worth 7 WAR is more valuable than 2 players who are worth 7 WAR together simply due to the fact that the team will have another position available which they can fill with another player. Because a player like Albert Pujols gives you equal production to that of two good players while still allowing you to fill that extra position with more value, shouldn’t he make more than the total value of the two good players’ contracts?
Yep, exactly. You said it perfectly, one great player is better than two pretty good players. The more wins you’re getting out of a player, the higher a cost. You might pay, say, $3M per win for a one or two WAR player, but once you get into Pujols territory, $7M or $8M per win becomes the norm. It’s not a linear scale.
Reg asks: Although most people are conceding the AL East to Boston, there has been little mention of the fact that they lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. True, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may make up the offensive punch but Youkilis is not the defensive third baseman Beltre was. Also, there are questions re pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Do you think that the Red Sox should be odds-on favorites to (a) win the AL East or (b) advance to the World Series?
a) Sure, I think they’re the favorites in the AL East right now, I don’t think you’ll find anyone that can put up too much of an argument otherwise. They’re not going to lap the field or win the division by like, ten games. The other four clubs are too good for that to happen, but I feel comfortable saying they’re the best team in AL right now.
b) Nope, I’ll always take the field when asked that. The Yankees, Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Rangers … all those clubs could take down the Sox in a five or seven game playoff series. Do they have a really good chance of going to the World Series? Sure, but odds-on favorite? Nah.
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.