After a month long process, which included up to five teams, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has decided to join the New York Yankees and don the pinstripes.
The Yankees’ main goal since missing the postseason last year, for only the second time in 19 seasons, was to upgrade their pitching rotation with a top of the rotation pitcher. Looking around the free agent market and trade market, there was only one pitcher that fit the billing and it was Tanaka.
The Yankees set out to land the righty no matter the cost, even though indications around the league was that they weren’t going to spend money if it meant going over the $189 million tax threshold.
Things didn’t look so well early in the offseason as MLB and Japan’s National Professional Baseball League were putting together a new posting system for players coming over to the U.S. Gone are the days that teams bid $50 million for the rights to negotiate with a player and a new $20 million limit was implemented which made Tanaka’s Rakuten Golden Eagle’s team reluctant to post the pitcher.
The Eagles, though, decided to grant the right-hander’s wish and posted him and five teams put maximum bids for him. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, along with the Yankees, had three weeks to negotiate a contract with the pitcher after he held meetings with each club in Los Angeles on Jan. 8.
The Dodgers seemed to be the biggest threat to the Yankees in landing Tanaka as Tanaka’s fiance preferred to live on the West Coast to be closer to home but in the end the Yankees were not going to be outbid for their main target.
The Yankees backed up their money truck and gave the 25-year-old a seven-year, $155 million contract, with an opt-out clause after the fourth year. The contract makes it the fifth richest contract for any pitcher in history, trailing those of four Cy Young award winners in Clayton Kershaw ($215 million), Justin Verlander ($180 million), Felix Hernandez ($175 million) and Tanaka’s new teammate CC Sabathia ($161 million).
The Yankees are hoping that Tanaka will be more like Yu Darvish than Daisuke Matsusaka, as he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season, with a mid-to high 90s fastball and a devastating splitter. Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA and 1,238 strikeouts in 175 games since 2007.
Tanaka is slated to fit behind Sabathia and fellow Japanese native Hiroki Kuroda at the top of the rotation with Ivan Nova going fourth, if Tanaka pans out as they think he will, it will be one of the best rotations in the league.
The last time the Yankees missed the postseason, they spent $441 million to ensure it won’t happen again and ended up winning the 2010 World Series. Well, after missing the postseason again, they have now spent $471 million this offseason on revamping the lineup with the additions of catcher Brian McCann, center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran before spending big on Tanaka.
Tanaka should have the help of Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and former Yankee Hideki Matsui in his transition to the majors. Now, the waiting game starts to see if the risk pays off, and if it does, we might see New York in the World Series once again.
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